'Foster parents do make a difference'

More individuals are needed to help with the growing number of kids who need to be placed in foster homes.

The National Youth Advocate Program, which has an office in Versailles, focuses on foster care licensing, reports regional manager Emily Hankins. It's the largest private licensing agency in the region.

"We also offer other services to families involved with the Indiana Department of Child Services. We help parents with home-based services, such as dealing with kids' behaviors and helping them find housing or jobs. We try to help them maintain their home life and get back on their feet."

If their kids are in foster care, "we help with visitation and facilitation and transport kids to and from visits."

In emergency removals, a home for the youth must be found quickly. IDCS receives five to six emails a day across the state concerning emergency placements, she notes.

Region 15 consists of six counties: Ripley, Dearborn, Decatur, Jefferson, Ohio and Switzerland. The average length of stay per child in foster care is 355 days. After that, they could go home, be adopted or have a guardianship, says licensing coordinator Sara Middendorf.

About 55.5 percent of kids are placed in their home counties and, if possible, siblings are placed together. However, "it's getting harder to find homes with enough space for them (multiple siblings), so sometimes we have to split them up," she reveals.

"It used to be most difficult to find homes for teens, but now it's even difficult to place babies because of the shortage of foster homes."

Hankins emphasizes, "My plea is if it (being a foster parent) is something you've thought about, but you're not completely sold on, let us talk to you .... Now is the time to act on it."

"People will say, 'I'm too old.' There isn't a too old. As long as you can provide them (youth) a safe and warm place to stay, that's what we need.

"I've heard some people say they don't want to foster because 'I'll become too attached.' We want you to love them like they're your own."

Middendorf adds, "They'll always take something from their experience with you. Foster parents do make a difference because the kids get to see what a healthy family looks like."

Some of the requirements for being a foster parent include:

• Must be at least 21;

• Must pass a criminal background check;

• Must have stable housing;

• Must be financially stable – "We want to make sure you can support adding another child in the home," Hankins announces;

• Must go through training – "This scares some people, but we work with you."

"We do a safety audit of the physical home requirements and do a home study. Foster parents must also be CPR and first aid certified," she says.

They are trained to notice the effects of abuse, self care for the family and receive tools to deal with behavioral issues. "They have a treatment coordinator who supports them and comes into the home once a week."

Middendorf reports, "We get to know the families on a personal level, which I think they like."

"We're always looking for places where we can recruit foster parents and places where we can put up signs, such as local businesses, churches, etc.," she emphasizes.

Diane Raver can be contacted at diane.raver@batesvilleheraldtribune.com or 812-934-4343, Ext. 114.

National Youth Advocate Program

The local office is located at 202 N. Gaslight Drive, P.O. Box 811, Versailles.

Info: 812-609-4216

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