Sheila Kelly

Charlene Hall gets so many phone calls on Mother’s Day that she has to turn off her ringer so she can enjoy the holiday with her family.

But no matter how many messages the Junction City resident receives, she returns them all. She only has three biological children, but about 500 young people can call her mom — the youth she took in over the past 33 years as an Oregon Youth Authority (OYA) foster parent.

For these young people, Charlene was their second-chance family — their second chance at having a positive, supportive, safe home; and their second chance at changing their lives.

Many OYA youth could benefit from foster parents like Charlene, but we don’t have nearly enough homes to send them to.

Coos County currently has just three OYA foster homes. Statewide, OYA only has 36.

What is OYA? We’re the state’s juvenile justice agency. We provide safe environments and opportunities for rehabilitation for youth ages 12 through 24 who are committed to our custody by the courts.

Some youth in our custody go to juvenile correctional facilities. But the majority live in the community, where we try to place them in the most appropriate setting for them to get the treatment and support they need to be crime-free, productive members of their communities.

OYA’s foster care program only provides homes for teenagers and young adults, and we don’t do adoptions. We serve teens working their way toward returning home, as well as youth ages 18 to 24 who need help learning independent-living skills.

We often try to place youth in foster homes that are near their regular home so that they can be near their families and local support networks. But with only three foster homes in Coos County, that means local youth who are good candidates for foster care often must go live elsewhere in Oregon. Or we may not have any available homes at all.

So who may qualify to be an OYA foster parent? You must be:

• At least 21 years old, or 25 if you are working with youth 18 and older.

• A U.S. citizen or permanent resident.

• Able to pass a background check.

• Able to help youth build positive relationships and develop life skills.

Our youth have their own state medical card to pay for medical, mental health, and other treatment costs. Foster parents provide basic housing, food, clothing, transportation, recreational opportunities, spending money, and reasonable incidentals. Our foster families receive a monthly payment to reimburse them for the services they provide.

You don’t need previous foster care experience. We provide a wide range of training, from how to work with youth who have been through the court system, to how to help youth dealing with mental health or drug and alcohol issues.

OYA foster parents also have a strong support network. We call at least once a week and visit at least monthly, in addition to providing continual support via phone or email. OYA parole and probation officers include our foster parents in case planning for their youth.

Our youth reap countless benefits from supportive foster homes, but our foster parents also see rewards. Just ask Charlene. When her former youth call her year after year, they often share news of jobs, college, spouses and children.

She gave them a second chance. And it made all the difference.

Sheila Kelly is the Oregon Youth Authority foster care certifier for Coos County. To learn more about being an OYA foster parent, please contact Sheila at Sheila.Kelly@oya.state.or.us or 971-283-6404, or visit our website: bit.ly/oyafostercare

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