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Foster care crisis
Kids rescued from unsafe homes have nowhere else to go

06/01/17
By Ryan Lessard news@hippopress.com



 Foster care workers say an influx of kids entering the state foster care system, driven by the opioid addiction epidemic, has grown to the point where there aren’t enough foster families to take the kids — and recruiting new foster families isn’t easy, given how little they receive from the state to help pay for the costs of caring for a child.

 
Recruiting
Katie Cassidy, a foster care recruiter with Child and Family Services, says demand for foster homes has risen faster than supply can keep up.
“The biggest thing right now is the state of New Hampshire is in quite a foster crisis where we do not have enough homes statewide,” Cassidy said. “We are desperately seeking foster homes who can provide all different kinds of care.”
CFS is a private nonprofit organization that partners with the state Division for Children, Youth and Families to pair children with foster families after DCYF assesses their case and removes them from an abusive or negligent household.
While DCYF internally pairs children with general needs, CFS specializes in more challenging cases. It trains foster families to qualify as independent services options, or ISO families, which need to have at least one year of experience with general foster cases before taking on more challenging cases. 
Cassidy said there’s a growing need for both general foster families and advanced foster families because of the strain on the system. And time is of the essence.
She said the problem has been growing over the past couple of years but it’s risen to crisis levels in the past year as more kids who belong in family settings are being placed in group homes because there aren’t enough families available.
Eileen Mullen, an administrator with DCYF, said there are 1,223 children in foster care right now and the past state fiscal year saw a big increase.
“We’ve experienced about a 30-percent increase of the children coming into the system,” Mullen said. “That’s considerable.”
CFS Advocacy Director Keith Kuenning says this means kids ending up in group homes or with families that are poor matches, which may result in the child’s getting bounced around from home to home. 
In an ideal system, kids are matched with families based on broader criteria, which look at things like the age and gender the families are looking for, whether they plan to adopt or they’re empty-nesters, the needs of the child and whether families will be willing to work with biological parents. Both the children and foster families fill out a form so social workers can compare their “compatibility index,” according to Mullen.
But that becomes a luxury in a system with too few families.
“Right now the system is so strained, you don’t really have the ability to match. You just find an open bed and put the child there,” Kuenning said.
In order to combat this, CFS is actively looking to recruit more families.
“We’re really trying to step up that game here, because we have such a need right now,” Cassidy said.
She encourages anyone curious to reach out despite any misgivings they may have about their qualifications.
“There’s no perfect parent, and we’re OK with that,” Cassidy said.
Some things are improving on the recruitment side. Muller said the health commissioner recently signed off on a new team of people who are dedicated to performing home studies — the process of evaluating prospective foster families. Before, this work was done by people whose time was divided between other responsibilities.
The team has been up and running since January, but with all the fire safety inspections, health inspections and criminal background checks, the process still takes between eight and 12 weeks, according to Mullen.
 
State funding
One of the reasons it’s been hard to recruit new foster families is economics. Caring for kids is hugely expensive, and the payments the state makes to foster families that are meant to defray those costs may be inadequate for many potential foster families.
“The problem that we’re having is that those rates haven’t been raised in 10 years,” Kuenning said.
Right now, Kuenning said, the state pays a base rate of $16 per day per child age 0 to 5 and $30 per month for clothing. He said foster parents joke that $30 a month is enough to buy one shoe in May and another shoe in June.
Kuenning would like to see the base rate be more in line with the national average, which is $24 per day, but he said the state needs to toe the line between cost reimbursement and profit from overpaying.
“We’re trying to find that sweet spot,” Kuenning said.
He said the decision to raise a child should never be motivated by money, so enabling that kind of incentive could cause unintended problems.
Kuenning is in talks with lawmakers and the governor’s office in the hopes that the state budget will allocate an additional $1.5 million to $2 million per year in order to raise the base rate to about $21 per day. 
Kuenning also wants to see the state raise the clothing payments to at least $60 per month.
He’s optimistic that these proposals will have a chance in the Statehouse since Gov. Chris Sununu has prioritized children’s issues.
The state is in the process of reforming DCYF to fix problems with the assessment process, but Kuenning said fixing one without fixing the other would be for naught. After all, identifying unsafe home environments and removing children from them is all predicated on the idea that there’s a better place for these kids to live.
“Foster care is the backbone of the child protective system,” Kuenning said.
If you are considering becoming a foster parent, call 801-4108. 





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