COOS COUNTY — In an overwhelmed statewide system, local Oregon foster care advocates are working to eliminate the gap between the number of children in foster care and homes available for their placement.
In Coos County, there are currently 242 children in foster care with 207 certified homes serving children in both general applicant and child-specific foster care.
Like most counties throughout the state, Coos County has faced difficulties with keeping up with its ever-growing population of children in foster care. At the start of the year, the county had about 278 children in the system.
Department of Human Services’ foster family certifier, Monica Picatti, said the department has been working closely with community partners on improving its foster parent retention and recruitment procedures, including the Foster Parent Association and Oregon Coast Community Action.
Last month, she said DHS added two new certifiers to its North Bend office as a way to help lower its caseloads and deliver more personalized support service to its foster families.
“We are trying to collaboratively work together to see how we can better support our foster parents,” Picatti said. “The best way to know how to support them is to listen to them.”
As it stands, certifiers are required to complete a home visit every six months or more dependent on the child’s situation. Its department is also tasked with completing a home study of where the child will be placed through a series of inspections and interviews.
“We are also working on a peer support program for our families in crisis,” Picatti said. “We need to be able to talk to other foster parents about what’s happening in homes without breaking confidentially.”
An active peer support team will allow families to help one another, Picatti added.
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CASA of Coos County, which provides volunteer court appointed advocates for children in foster care, oversees an average of 260 children a month. The program currently has 37 advocates and seven monitors, who are serving 124 children throughout the county.
Program director Greg Dalton said advocates will frequently check with foster parents to gather further information on a child’s well-being and aids DHS to providing further insight in a child’s final placement plan.
“If there is anything we can do to best serve the child then we’ll help facilitate that,” Dalton said. “One of our chief goals is to gather information and let the judge know how children are doing. We are always looking out for what’s best for them and bringing their voice to the courtroom.”
As a former foster child herself, Coos County resident Lewane said she knew at 13 years old that she wanted to become a foster parent.
“I was really lucky that I was placed in a wonderful home,” Lewane said. “However, I also saw so many kids my own age, older and younger struggling with their placements. I knew I had enough love in me to share and give back.”
For little over a year, she said she has housed five children, which have included emergency, short-term and long-term placements. Although, she never house more than two children at a time, Lewane said she’s seen other foster parents take up to 10 children in their homes. Fellow foster parent, Kori, agreed.
“It’s definitely a big commitment to become a foster parent,” Kori said. “Its hard work and lot to do, but it’s important to not get burned out and the county has been very respectful of meeting your limits and honoring your wishes.”
According to Picatti, DHS, ORCCA and the Foster Parent Association are working to put on a recruitment event next month to attract community members interested in becoming foster parents with a free showing of “Instant Family.” As of now, no date has been set for the showing.