A love for kids – foster families needed in Colorado

By Shelley Widhalm

The Surveyor

Foster parent Chelsea Hill quit her job teaching in order to dedicate her time and energy to being a foster parent.

“I decided to stay at home and focus on my kids,” said Hill, a board member of Foster and Adoptive Families of Larimer County, a volunteer-run nonprofit based in Loveland. “I’m that constant in their life until they go home or turn 18. … That gives them consistency they otherwise don’t have.”

Hill, a Fort Collins resident who taught high school special education for 11 years, has four biological children and currently is a foster parent of three children. She’s been fostering for nine years and has fostered approximately 50 children, half of whom have had long-term placements.

“I do it because I love being a parent. I love being around children,” Hill said. “The safety and wellbeing of our children is the foundation of our society. It’s more important to have foster parents support them through the tough times in their lives.”

Hill helps fill a need for foster parents in Larimer County and the state — but there is a shortage of parents wanting to foster, an ongoing issue organizations like Foster and Adoptive Families of Larimer County try to address.

The nonprofit supports 500 foster and kinship families — where a family member or close family friend fosters the child and takes temporary custody instead of Human Services — and another 300 adoptive families a year. It provides the families with resources like school supplies, clothing, furniture and a food pantry, as well as financial support, information, and events, trips and programming.

“There’s always a need for foster parents, particularly in Larimer County, especially for teenagers and sibling sets,” Hill said, adding children with special needs also are harder to place.

In Larimer County there is an average of 55 to 60 county-licensed foster parents, though the need is for at least 90 foster families, said Julie Rudley, supervisor of the Foster & Kinship Care team of Larimer County Human Services. The team licenses and supports foster homes and supports certified kinship homes and noncertified kinship homes, which do not receive a stipend or have court involvement.

According to the latest report in October 2017, Larimer County has 53 children in foster homes and another 33 children in non-county foster homes, group homes and residential homes, or 86 children total needing foster care, Rudley said. The county faces a shortage of foster families, in particular, due to its philosophy that congregant care, or group and residential homes, are not ideal for children, and family settings are more suitable for them.

Increasing the number of foster families would result in better matches that can be sustained over time. It also would allow for fewer disruptions by keeping foster children within the county and able to attend their same schools, instead of sending them to places like Denver or Colorado Springs.

“It’s not an easy thing to be a foster parent,” Rudley said. “It’s a huge commitment for families to go through the certification process.”

Foster parents in Larimer County can attend an optional orientation session and are required to attend foster-parent training over two weekends, offered every month, and then fill out paperwork and conduct a home study, a process that takes 60 to 90 days, Rudley said.

“Being a foster parent is hard work. As much as it’s rewarding, it’s difficult,” Hill said, explaining the children may have trauma and behavioral or medical problems and often have moderate to high needs.

The need for foster parents is a constant, said Sherry Owens, executive director of the Colorado State Foster Parent Association, a nonprofit based in Golden that supports 2,800 foster parents statewide through education, resources and advocacy.

“I wouldn’t say we are in crisis situation, but we have a need for foster parents,” Owens said. “It’s certainly not for everybody. It’s a very challenging thing to do, but it’s a very rewarding thing to do.”

The reward comes from investing time, energy, love and care into a child and seeing that child “start to flourish and grow and make strides,” Owens said.

“These kids have had a lot given to them; they had a lot of trauma given to them. It’s just amazing to see their growth and potential. … It’s a wonderful vocation, and anyone can do it if they have a love for kids and a passion for that.”

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