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The stories that sometimes float around on social media — about Children’s Division caseworkers bringing kids to their office for long periods of time, even overnight, while they desperately search for a foster home — are true.
But they might not be as common as people think, according to Lisa Crawford, circuit manager for the Greene County Children’s Division Office.
Oftentimes it happens because the child was removed from the home in the middle of the night, and relatives couldn’t be reached till the next day, Crawford explained.
Other times the caseworker is able to find a temporary placement that gives them a few days to search for a more permanent home, either with a relative or a foster home.
Crawford spoke to the Daily Citizen last week about the need for foster families for older kids and teens.
But from her perspective, there are not enough foster homes in Greene County for all ages — not just teens.
“Older youth are harder to place. We know that,” Crawford said. “But in general, there’s just not enough homes for kids.”
Only 5 foster homes have an opening
Crawford checked to see how many foster homes were available in Greene County on Aug. 18 (the day before the interview), and what age and gender the homes would take. Here are the openings she found:
- One home for a girl age 6-8
- One home for a girl age 0-3
- One home for a girl or boy age 0-2
- One home for a girl or boy age 0-1
- One home for a girl age 5-8
That means any sibling groups would likely have to be separated. That also means there wasn’t anything available for a boy 3 or older.
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There is a great need for foster homes in Greene County willing to take in older kids and teenagers.
Crawford quickly added this caveat: just because those five foster homes are the only openings Children’s Division workers have on the “list” doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be able to find a 3-year-old boy a placement — or a 10-year-old boy or even a teenager for that matter.
“We always, always, always diligently search for family. That’s our first priority, for the youth to go someplace they know. We know that’s best for them,” Crawford said. “We know that they have better outcomes when they’re with someone they know, and who loves and cares about them already. They’re going to do better there.”
About half are placed with a relative
In fact, Crawford said they are able to find a family placement for kids coming into care about 50 percent of the time. That percentage is a bit higher for older youth, Crawford said.
“If I ask an 8-year-old, ‘Who do you know,’ it’s not the same thing as asking a 15-year-old, who can say, ‘Yeah, call my coach, call my best friend’s mom,’” Crawford said. “We’re also talking to the kids when they’re a little bit older about who do you know, who have you stayed with in the past when things have happened with your mom.”
And it’s possible at least one of those five foster homes on the “list” would be willing to bend their criteria a bit for what age or gender they’d allow into their home if a case worker called and asked, Crawford said.
“Right now, we have just a very few homes, and they’re very specific (about age/gender),” she said. “It does make it difficult if you have a 15-year-old who comes in, and a lot of these kids come in through no fault of their own. We know that. We know it’s about the adults in their lives.
“Our kids are just kids. They’re just kids who need to be loved and supported and cared about,” she said. “So it’s hard when we have those kids come in and then not be able to say, ‘Oh, we have this perfect foster home for you.’”
If a foster kid has specific mental health care needs, they might qualify for a residential group home or program like Great Circle, Footsteps or Lakeland.
Group homes not ideal for most kids
When the case worker believes a youth might qualify for a residential program, specific criteria must be met according to federal guidelines. Within a certain number of days, an assessment must be done. And then the judge has to approve the youth to be placed in a residential program, Crawford said.
And Children’s Division workers don’t believe that kids should be placed in residential programs any longer than what’s necessary, Crawford said.
“We only believe they should be there to stabilize,” she said. “Then we should move them out.”
This is in part because it can be extremely difficult to find a foster home placement for a youth after they leave a residential program. Foster families are often leery of bringing in a youth who’s been in a residential program because that means obviously something has happened or there’s been some issue with the youth, Crawford said.
“We want foster parents to be completely informed about a youth and their history,” Crawford said. “We have to tell them all the things that have happened that we are aware of.”
Teen behaviors can sometimes be too much
Having to share the youth’s history with foster parents can sometimes make it harder for kids who’ve done some fairly normal teenage things, like sneaking out.
“I’m not saying sneaking out is an appropriate behavior. It’s not an appropriate behavior,” Crawford said. “But if a teen sneaks out of your house, and they’re not in (foster) care, you deal with it. You consequence. You move on. You maybe add some safety precautions.”
But when a youth sneaks out of a foster home, the foster parents have to notify the Children’s Division caseworker, the Family Support Team (guardian ad litem, juvenile officer, etc.), as well as call the police.
All this can lead to foster teens having to move from placement to placement, something that’s unfortunately common among older youth in foster care.
“I think sometimes it just feels really heavy for foster parents and it’s really a lot to deal with,” Crawford said. “Sometimes it’s just too much, and you say, ‘Okay, I can’t do this anymore.’ And then so we go on to the next home.
“We try very hard not to move kids unless it’s absolutely necessary,” she said. “It’s hard on them. It’s hard on the foster home. We don’t want to change their schools and their environments if at all possible.”
Sometimes a foster youth will do things to sabotage the placement.
“Maybe not intentionally,” Crawford said. “I don’t think a lot of times it’s intentional, but it’s just they feel themselves getting close to somebody, and they react.”
Foster kids love their bio-families
It’s important to realize that foster kids still love their biological families, she added.
“Most of our kids really want to go home,” Crawford said. “They just want things to be safe when they go home.”
“A lot of our kids come with trauma, hence the reason they are in foster care,” Crawford said. “And it takes a special person to be able to help a youth through their trauma and recognize that sometimes these behaviors are not just to be obstinate, that they’re dealing with their trauma from their past.
“For me, the biggest message I want people to know is that we need homes for our older youth,” she said. “You don’t have to be a perfect parent to be a home for an older youth. You just have to be willing to hang in there and accept them for who they are.”
Prior to the interview, Crawford asked her staff to contribute anything they’d want the public to know about the 700-plus kids in foster care in Greene County. She wrote down their responses.
- Have hopes and dreams.
- Need guidance and support.
- Are typical teenagers, with added trauma.
- Just want to be accepted, loved, and supported like we all do.
- Are in care because of the adults in their lives.
- Require oversight and support that all children need.
- Need respect for their own opinions, values and understanding.
- Love their bio-families.
- Need allies to open their homes and love them on their own journey.
- Need one person to recognize how great they are.
- Need someone to keep them safe.
- Sometimes they have given up on being a kid (they’ve had to be the one to take care of themselves and their siblings).