Foster parents needed
When a child is taken into the custody of the Department of Social Services, the agency’s ultimate goal, depending on the circumstances, is reunification of the family. In the meantime, DSS attempts to keep children in familiar circumstances, whether finding relatives to take them in or at least finding a foster home nearby.
“You want to try to keep the child’s situation as normal as possible,” said Lara Turner, a Haywood County foster care licensing worker.
However, bringing a family back together is difficult when a child has been moved into foster care in another county because there aren’t enough foster homes available in his or her home county. Parents end up with few opportunities to visit their children, family ties are weakened and the children are taken away from the school, friends and people they know.
In Haywood County, such situations are becoming more and more common as the number of licensed foster parents available is far smaller than the number of children who need homes. Currently, only six families are licensed through Haywood County, and while there are other foster care agencies in the area that help with recruiting, foster parents are still scarce.
“There definitely is a shortage,” said Foster Care Supervisor Pam Montgomery.
For anyone who is considering becoming a foster parent, the process is an involved one, but it is to ensure the safety of the children in foster care.
“It’s pretty extensive. The last thing we want to do is to remove a child from their home and then put them into another situation that could potentially be traumatic,” Turner said.
But for those who are willing to offer a child a good home, becoming a foster parent is achievable and much needed in Haywood County.
The Department of Social Services has a packet of information available to get people started on their journey. Right now, the county is not licensing foster parents, but there are several agencies, both religion-based and independent, that work to help people get licensed with the state. Haywood County DSS can facilitate contact with any of these agencies.
“They can choose which agency they want to work with,” Montgomery said.
Anyone 21 or older can apply to become a foster parent. Turner said there is a misconception that a person must be married to foster a child, but single people can become foster parents, too.
Another common myth about foster parenting is that in order to foster a child, the person either has to want to adopt a child, or just the opposite, can’t adopt foster children, and neither of these scenarios is true.
While today’s foster agencies encourage “shared parenting,” in which foster parents will help to facilitate a relationship with the child’s parents through phone calls, visitation or other forms of parental involvement, there are many children in the system who are eligible for adoption as well.
Montgomery explained that DSS tries to work with parents on solving the issues and problems that led to their child being removed from the home, and when possible, reuniting the family. Shared parenting helps to keep familial bonds intact during that process; however, in the cases where the home remains unsuitable or unsafe for the child, adoption by a foster parent can be a possibility.
But first, a potential foster parent must get a license.
The process starts with Model Approach to Partnerships in Parenting (MAPP) training. The course is 10 weeks long for a total of 30 hours. During this time the licensing agency will assess potential foster parents for suitability as well giving applicants time to access whether fostering a child is right for them.
Prospective foster parents must submit to finger printing, a background check and a medical exam. The home where the child will live should have a separate room for the child or children, and the house has to have a fire inspection and a disaster preparedness plan in place. Any pets in the home must also be up to date on vaccinations.
Once all of the training is done and requirements are met, the license request is turned over to the state, which much give final approval.
If foster parenting isn’t an option, but people are still interested in helping children in the county’s care, the Guardian Ad Litem program is another way people can get involved.
Guardian Ad Litem is a volunteer program in which people become advocates for abused, neglected and at-risk children. Volunteers are assigned to a child, and their job is to look out for the child’s best interest in court.
More Guardian Ad Litem volunteers are needed as well.
For information on becoming a foster parent, call DSS at 452-6620. For information about Guardian Ad Litem in Haywood County, contact Shawn Moore at 454-6513.