foster family

National Foster Care Month is celebrated in May.

According to a June 2016 study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there are more than 428,000 children in foster care in the United States. In its Foster Care Bill of Rights, the Missouri Department of Social Service Children's Division states, “In all circumstances, the best interests of the child shall be the first priority of the Children's Division.” This child-first sentiment is common among groups involved with foster care, and it shows their intense and meaningful commitment. With May being National Foster Care Month, it’s the perfect time to look at facts about foster care in Missouri.

Multiple groups in Missouri provide resources for foster parents and children

“The goal of the child welfare system is to protect children and provide services to prevent or eliminate the need to remove a child from the home,” MDSS Communications Director Rebecca Woelfel said in an email. But when that isn’t possible, ensuring that the foster care experience is as enjoyable as possible is a no-brainer. Two groups in Missouri that do this are the Central-MO Foster Care and Adoption Association and the MDSS Children’s Division.

CMFCAA provides resources in three ways: education, support and advocacy. The group educates foster parents through training and events for anyone interested in learning more. Their most recent event focused on trauma and how it affects children.

Support comes in many forms, including crisis intervention, respite events where volunteers take care of the children, giving parents the night off, and a food voucher program.

The group works to create change with its Youth Speak Out team, which is made up of older youth who want to share their story and make the system better. Also, CMFCAA CEO DeAnna Alonso works with legislators in both Washington D.C. and Jefferson City to push for “better resources and outcomes in Missouri,” CMFCAA Administrative Assistant Jessica Taylor says.

MDSS Children’s Division helps foster families in other ways. For example, their Older Youth Program help foster children transitioning out of care adjust and be successful. The department also operates a data dashboard, which provides county, regional and statewide level data on children in foster care. “The purpose of the data dashboard is to help educate community stakeholders and Children’s Division staff in our efforts to safely reduce the need for foster care,” Woelfel said in an email.

Last year, fewer children in Missouri entered foster care than any year on record.

According to the Missouri Children’s Division 2017 Report, 2,033 children entered or reentered foster care last year. This is 283 fewer children than last year and 1,867 less than in 2002, which was the earliest available report online. This goes against the national trend, which has seen a steady increase in the number of children entering foster care in recent years. One possible contributing factor for this decline is the focus on keeping children within their own families, rather than placing them in foster care, Taylor says. This is known as kinship care.

Becoming a foster parent isn’t out of your reach.

“The Children’s Division is always looking for nurturing, loving individuals to become foster or adoptive parents who are willing to open their home to a child in need,” Woelfel said in an email. According to the Children’s Division, these are the requirements to become a foster parent:

• Be at least 21 years of age.

• Complete a child abuse/neglect check and criminal record check including fingerprints.

• Be in good health, both physically and mentally.

• Have a stable income.

• Be willing to participate in and complete a free training and assessment process.

• Be part of a professional team willing to voice perspectives and concerns.

• Be willing to partner with the child's family.

Becoming a foster parent costs little to nothing, with free in-home training provided by the state. And to make things easier, CMFCAA also helps people become foster parents through its family development program. The program guides people through the training and certification process, making it easier for them to become foster parents.

You don’t have to become a foster parent to get involved.

“Volunteers are so important for us because we don’t have a ton of funding,” Taylor says. “We need a lot more hands than we have.” People can volunteer their time in multiple ways, including spending time with foster children at respite events, helping out at the CMFCAA office with things like mailing letters and setting up events, such as their Foster Care Appreciation Hoedown taking place later this month.

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