MADRAS, OR -- Oregon’s Department of Human Services has a significant shortage of foster parents in Jefferson County. "Right now, we only have four foster families that we consider to be ‘general applicants,’ and that means they can take pretty much any child in their home that we feel is appropriate for them," says Cherie Ferguson, with the Department of Human Services (DHS).
There is a statewide shortage of foster homes, but the problem is compounded in and around Madras. Ferguson says, "Because it’s a smaller rural community, we’ve had less folks calling in and saying, ‘hey, I’m interested in becoming a foster parent.’ So, we’ve really been pushing in Jefferson County because we have just so very few homes and we don’t want to place kids in another county if we don’t have to." She tells KBND News there are nearly 50 Jefferson County kids currently in state custody, but only about 20 are placed inside the county, "If you can imagine a kiddo that’s coming into care being placed with a non-relative, and all of a sudden they have to be placed in Deschutes County and they can’t go to their own school, they lose contact with their friends at school, they lose contact with their teachers and their natural support group. And, that’s just an added trauma to that child that we really don’t want to see happen. We really would like to keep kids in their home communities."
Ferguson is a recruitment specialist with DHS and says the agency is actively searching for prospective foster parents, "I think much of the problem is that the community simply isn’t aware that we need homes. And, it may be that people rule themselves out unknowingly, thinking they have to be married or they have to own their own home." She says the basic requirements are pretty simple, "You can be single or married; you don’t have to own your own home, you can rent an apartment or a house; and you have to have some form of income, it doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be a job. And, you have to be able to pass a background check and a child welfare history check." She adds, "We’ve been struggling with how to get the information out into the community and we’ve been putting out – we call them yard signs. Historically, the best way to get the word out is word of mouth; that’s what we’re hearing in terms of people coming through the door – they knew a foster parent, or they were a former foster parent, or they knew a former foster child or someone in their school that they would like to help."
She acknowledges not everyone can become a foster parent, but there are other ways to get involved. DHS also needs “office buddies” who sit with kids while the agency works to find an appropriate placement, and respite providers, who give foster parents an occasional break.
A Foster Parent Introduction class will be held January 22 at the Madras DHS office, for those interested in learning more. Click HERE