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Jan 05, 2018

Q&A with Brett Reyes, Foster Care Recruitment Specialist, Bethany Christian Services of Michigan, Grand Rapids

The need for foster parents across the U.S. is great. As Bethany looks for families to help meet the need, our Grand Rapids, Michigan, office is hoping to identify prospective families that live closest to communities with the highest rates of children in foster care. The goal is to keep children in care close to their home communities.

What happens when there aren’t enough foster families to place children close to their homes?

While our goal is always to place children in homes that are best for them, we often have to place children based on what is available. A shortage of foster homes means it’s more difficult to keep siblings together or even to keep them close. It also means foster families may have to travel farther* to take children to family visits and appointments.

*The guideline for placement is within 75 miles from removal. Most foster homes for our office are within a 30-minute drive from Grand Rapids.

We are so grateful for everything our foster families do to provide safe homes for children. Sometimes they have to navigate logistical challenges and longer commutes, but they are willing to do whatever is needed to serve the child’s needs. As we look ahead and plan to recruit more foster families in 2018, we want to specifically look for local families that can help keep children in their local communities.

What are the most compelling reasons to keep children close to their home communities?

Whenever we place a child in a foster home, we ask foster parents to think about what specific things they can keep consistent, familiar, and stable for the child during a time when everything else in their life feels chaotic, scary, and uncertain.

  • Consistency and stability creates a feeling of safety for the child if they can continue going to familiar places where they have friends and know some safe adults. These familiar places could include:
    • Schools
    • Churches
    • Libraries
    • Recreation centers/Community centers
    • Grocery stores
    • Parks
  • Seeing familiar buildings as they ride in the car is comforting and helps a child know where they are.
  • Being removed from their homes and separated from family members and siblings is traumatic for children. Their challenges can be compounded when they are suddenly the “new kid” in a new school or neighborhood… and further compounded if they move two or three times while in care. Kids maintain some social capital when they can stay in some of their familiar surroundings.
  • Youth in foster care engage in less risky behaviors when they have a tangible web of support.

How are parents affected when kids are placed outside their community?

Parents whose kids are in care already feel vulnerable, and they experience a lot of fear when they don’t know where their children are going to live or for how long. They worry whether their kids will be treated differently or discriminated against. They worry that their values, beliefs, or culture may not be respected or that what’s important to their family (traditions, extended family connections, etc.) may not be important to the foster family. Like any parent, they worry about their child being afraid in an unfamiliar environment.

How is Bethany in Grand Rapids recruiting differently to try to help keep children closer to home?

We are doing more community targeting—assessing where is the greatest need and asking who is local that could help. We are strengthening our community networks, including school districts, businesses, churches, and community organizations—wherever groups of people gather.

In 2018, we will be hosting several “lunch and learn” informational meetings at local businesses that employ large groups of people who have strong community ties. The goal of these meetings is to connect with the community and provide accurate, local information about foster care such as:

  • How many kids are in care in this school district?
  • What are the leading risk factors in this neighborhood that lead to children being placed in care?
  • How many local foster families are needed?
  • What does it take to become a foster parent?
  • How long is a typical foster placement?
  • What does it take to reunify children with their families?
  • How could your church, business, or community group help a family that has experienced foster care get back on its feet?

Foster care is usually talked about in terms of state-wide or national statistics that can be overwhelming. It’s hard to know how one person or one community could make a difference. By focusing on specific, local needs, we can empower community members to see the need as manageable and engage them in tangible opportunities to pitch in and help.

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