There’s no shortage of kids who need foster homes in the Spokane area, but one of the primary nonprofits in the region that works to find those children a safe place to stay has struggled to do so.
Lutheran Community Services received 111 foster-home referrals last year, but the nonprofit was unable to place any of the children.
LCS, which helps families become licensed foster parents, places children and provides support to both foster parents and children, isn’t the only agency in the state to struggle with placements in recent years.
But with so many referrals and so much difficulty placing them, LCS has turned to foster families licensed for Lutheran’s Unaccompanied Refugee Minor program for domestic placements. And the 17 families licensed for the refugee program have begun to respond.
With the aid of the refugee foster families, LCS has served four foster children so far in 2020, three of whom are in LCS-licensed homes. The fourth child isn’t placed with an LCS family but is receiving services from the organization.
Referrals for children seeking foster homes come from Washington Department of Children, Youth, and Family, which works with agencies like LCS to find a good match.
DCYF refers cases based on the child’s needs and the licensing needed for the case, said Debra Johnson, a spokeswoman for the agency.
There has been a “substantial decline” in foster homes where children can be placed but don’t need to be fostered with adoption in mind, Johnson said in an email.
Of the handful of child-placing agencies in the Spokane area that are included in DCYF’s most recent providers list, LCS is one of only two that provides general foster-family placement.
The state agency has seen an increase in children with mental health concerns and major developmental disabilities and in youth involved in the criminal justice system – making it harder to place children in a foster home equipped to meet their needs.
In the Spokane region, children stayed at hotels 40 times in November when caseworkers could not find a place for them to stay, according to the 2019 report from the Office of the Family and Children’s Ombudsman.
While the report concludes a statewide lack of foster homes is not the main problem leading to placement exceptions, in the Spokane area DCYF is looking at targeted recruitment efforts, Johnson said.
There are 514 foster homes in the city of Spokane, Johnson said.
LCSprovides extra support to foster families by providing them with an additional local caseworker who often has a smaller case load than their state caseworker.
“Our social worker, because we’re a much smaller program, just has the ability to know our foster parents better most of the time,” said Shelly Hahn, director of child welfare services at LCS.
The program used to serve mainly older children, ages 6 to 18, but as of last month expanded to serve ages 0 to 18.
A foster family with Lutheran Community Services gets licensed in-house and then starts the process of getting their first placement, all within the same office.
The licensing process takes 90 days to complete but can be longer depending on home visits and other appointments, Hahn explained.
On average, it takes four and a half months to get licensed with DCYF in the Spokane area, Johnson said.
Flexibility, a willingness to collaborate with others and being open to learning are all signs someone might be a good foster parent, Hahn said.
As Lutheran Community Services works to rebuild their community of foster parents Hahn hopes to tap into the “it takes a village” mentality.
With more families comes the ability to ask someone who has been through their first placement or the licensing process what it’s like or get additional support, Hahn said.
“My hope would be to get enough foster parents that we can start to develop a support network,” Hahn said. “Because it’s huge for foster parents to be able to talk with one another and engage with one another.”
While the process may be intimidating, Hahn is confident lots of great potential foster parents live in Spokane.
“I think it’s well worth the time and energy to take the next step if people are wondering,” Hahn said.
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