Relative foster care has increased in recent years, in regard to the care of both children and adults.
Sarah Pratt and Melanie Erickson of Morrison County Social Services gave a report on foster care to the Board of Commissioners, May 18. The number of licensed adult foster care homes in the county, in comparison to May 2020, has risen slightly, from 41 to 45. Child foster care licenses have gone down in the past year, from 60 to 52.
Erickson believes much of that is due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For “at least six to eight months,” Social Services did not process any new licenses because of the difficulty safety restrictions created in holding orientation or running background checks.
“People weren’t looking to get into foster care unless it was something going on with a relative or something like that,” she said. “That accounts for some of that decrease, I believe.”
Part of that is good news for the agency. One of its goals is to place children in foster care with relatives. Erickson said that aspect of licensing has changed in the last 10 years, as more and more families have stepped up to take in relatives.
Though there were only 12 licensed relative child foster care homes in May 2021 compared to 28 non-relative, Erickson said the expected outcomes of the two systems make that a bit deceiving. When a child is placed with a relative, it more often results in reunification with their parents than when they are placed with non-relatives. It is also more likely to become a permanent placement when they’re taken in by family members.
Both of these outcomes typically result in the closure of that license.
“We know that kids do better when they can be with family, and often those homes end up being a permanency option,” Erickson said. “It’s just a lot more seamless, a lot more trauma-informed for the kid. It’s just a lot easier transition to go live with an aunt or grandma and grandpa than into another foster home.”
There are two types of foster care when it comes to adults: family and corporate. In the family model, the primary license-holder lives in the home with the person in foster care. In corporate situations, the primary license holder does not live in the home, which is operated by a corporation with shift staff servicing clients.
Of the 45 licensed adult foster care homes in Morrison County, 25 are corporate and 20 are family. Pratt said both the number of clients and the number of homes has increased in recent years. The residents of those homes span age groups and levels of need.
“It’s across the board, depending on disability,” Pratt said. “We have 18-year-olds that are transitioning (from child foster care), we have 30-some year-olds with developmental disability or mental health.”
“It’s very person-centered,” Erickson added. “Once they are past 18, it becomes about what that adult’s abilities are and what they want for their living situation.”
Commissioner Greg Blaine asked Erickson if Morrison County is meeting the needs for foster children in need of placement and, if not, how that is being addressed.
“Probably not,” she said. “It’s always a scramble when we take kids into care, and a lot depends on the needs of the kids coming into care, where they reside in the school district — there’s just a number of factors. So, it always feels a little tense about trying to find a home. I give credit, I have been on call, and I’ve made those calls in the middle of the night to try to find a placement; and providers say yes. And I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that. That’s amazing.”
That, however, often serves only as short-term placement. Finding long-term placement for children in need of care can be difficult.
Pratt said that is often just the nature of children being more difficult than adults in terms of their situation for being in foster care and their needs. In her experience, she said, more people are interested in fostering adults than children and there is more turnover in child foster care.
Adult foster care also operates more like a business — such as child care — while child foster care is considered volunteer work.
“Reunification is hard sometimes for child foster parents, and there’s really not that in adult foster care,” Erickson said. “When you’re returning vulnerable children that you’ve become attached to, that can weigh on people’s minds. And it also impacts the other kids in their home, if they have other kids.”
In terms of how that issue is being addressed, Erickson said much of it is just getting out and recruiting foster families now that pandemic-related restrictions are being lifted. She said there are a few families who are currently going through the orientation process, which has also been made easier. Those interested in fostering can now take part in orientation online via Microsoft TEAMS, rather than having to attend a physical event.
“That has increased our ability to have people actually attend and complete training,” Erickson said. “Oftentimes we would set up orientation and then get to having the event and then people would fall off and not attend. I think that will turn around and boost that option for people actually being able to go through the process and learn about foster care.”
“You give a lot of credit to those families that answer the phone at 2 in the morning when there’s a need there, and you give credit to your staff for the work they do,” Blaine said. “We give credit to you for being there and showing leadership on this. This is a difficult human service issue, and you play a tremendous role in that.”