MADRAS, Ore. - It’s a nationwide problem that’s uprooting kids in Central Oregon from their schools, friends and communities. A shortage of foster parents is hitting rural areas hard.
Cherie Ferguson from the Department of Human Services is responsible for finding and retaining foster parents in the tri-county area. She said Friday that Jefferson County is being hit particularly hard.
There are currently only four general applicant homes, which are ones that can take any child, but there are 49 kids in the Jefferson County foster system. Because of this, only 21 of them are currently able to stay within the county. This adds more stress to an already tough situation.
“They have to be placed with a family that’s new to them," Ferguson said, "and then if they don’t have a family that’s in their hometown, then they have to go to a new school. They have to make new friends at school, new teachers, a whole new environment for that kiddo. So their natural support system is really just taken from them.”
Ferguson said Crook County also is seeing a significant lack of adequate foster homes. The number of kids in foster care averages between 50 and 60. But at this time there are 37 -- and right now, 27 of those are placed in another county.
Ferguson said this is a relatively new problem, emerging within the last year to 18 months. She said it's caused by several factors, including a focus on keeping kids with family members.
"Most of our staff is focusing on trying to certify relative homes," Ferguson said. "And when you become understaffed like we have been in the last few years, we really don’t have the staff to certify general applicant homes, and those are the homes that can take pretty much any kiddo.”
Ferguson said many partner organizations have also gone away, making the problem worse.
The state Department of Human Services is looking for people interested in becoming a foster parent. The process can take up to six months, and requires 28 hours of training. Background checks and a minimum age of 21 are among the other requirements.
“We want families to be successful, because we want it to be a positive experience for the foster family and for the foster child. The fewer moves that we can make with a foster child, the better," Ferguson said.
If you’re interested in becoming a foster parent, there are introductory classes coming up in each county:
Madras DHS Office
Jan. 22 from noon to 2 p.m.
Prineville DHS Office
Feb. 13 from noon to 2 p.m.
Redmond DHS Office
Feb. 22 from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.
To sign up for a class, email Cherie Ferguson at email@example.com or call 541-548-9496.