County looks to add foster parents
There are currently 62 children from Jefferson County, not including Warm Springs, in foster care, according to April Munks, the district manager for the Oregon Department of Human Services in Central Oregon.
There are just 19 certified foster homes, and only one of those is available for children who aren't family or specifically assigned to that home.
The nonprofit organization Every Child, which launched in Jefferson County in May, wants to recruit more foster parents and get volunteers to support them and DHS staff.
"We never have enough foster homes," Munks said. "We just never do."
That can lead to children being placed outside Jefferson County. While the reasons vary — sometimes children are placed outside the county for their own safety, because they have special needs, or because they have family outside the county — children are also placed farther from home than is ideal because there are not enough homes in the county.
Munks said when a child comes into care, the first thing DHS does is to look for family or someone who feels like family to the child.
Then, "we look within our district really hard first," she said.
DHS wants to keep children in their own school and community.
"It's really critical that we keep parent-child visits going," she said.
Munks said one way to become a foster parent is to contact Every Child.
To that end, the nonprofit is holding an Explore Fostering Coffee House at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 7, at Madras Brewing Co.
"We just allow people to come and ask questions," said Melissa Williams, the Central Oregon director for the nonprofit. "I think people don't realize there's a need."
People can talk with current foster families, as well as representatives from Warm Springs Child Protective Services. The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs runs their own agency, and also needs foster parents.
Williams said the event will also be a good way to learn about Every Child.
Jefferson County cases
In 2018, there were 104 victims of child abuse served by the Department of Human Services Child Welfare in Jefferson County. The vast majority of those were due to neglect.
While the number is striking, it's down from 159 in 2016 and 140 in 2017.
April Munks said she's not sure why the number has dropped.
She said it's hard to speculate if there were actually fewer instances or if more have gone unreported.
The rate of victims per 1,000 children was 18.6, still above the state average of 13.6, but the number is encouraging.
Munks is interested to see the 2019 data, which will be released in May.
Jefferson County and other DHS offices across the state have begun using a 24-hour child abuse hotline.
Munks said the number of calls in Central Oregon has gone up because people can call anytime, and the percentage of cases that are founded remains about the same. About 37% of calls are not assigned to Child Welfare.
The workload is heavy. In 2018, the office received 437 calls, 275 of which were referred for followup.
"I know that statewide we're not allocated enough positions to do the work that we're required to do," Munks said.
The Oregon Legislature recently increased funding, which will add one caseworker and one case aide position in Jefferson County.
"The work that caseworkers do happens all the time," Munks said. "They're really first responders ... We always have somebody on call."
Every Child had its origins in the Portland area, when in 2011, foster mom Jillana Goble asked a DHS Child Welfare staff member this question: "What happens to children when they are waiting at a DHS Child Welfare office when they are waiting for a foster family?"
What started as a simple movement to give children welcome boxes — an encouraging note, toys, things to color, or other items depending on the child's age and gender — has turned into a nonprofit that is a valued partner for DHS.
"They have different ways" to get people involved than DHS does, Munks said.
Every Child Central Oregon launched in May, said Melissa Williams, and the group is looking for more representation in Jefferson County.
"We would like some people in the community that are kind of like ambassadors of what we're doing and they're excited about it," Williams said.
Every Child still gives kids those welcome boxes, but they've expanded to do more.
For people who want to support foster care but don't want to become foster parents, Every Child has several ways to get involved.
"We ask the community to step up and give tangibly to kids in foster care," Williams said. In addition to the welcome boxes, Every Child responds to urgent needs when children come into care — beds, car seats and whatever else a foster family might need. It also gives launch boxes to young adults leaving care, setting them up with towels, dishes and gift cards.
The nonprofit also works with DHS to help people volunteer.
"We actually have 13 different initiatives that we can plug people into to volunteer," Williams said.
Every Child connects neighbors with foster families, providing meals and other help.
It also has office buddies who can sit with a child who has just come into care.
Williams said those children often feel alone.
"They're sitting with a caseworker who's working, in a really, really hard moment," Williams said.
So while the caseworker is looking for a placement for the child, an office buddy can sit with the child and play with them.
"Currently, we have zero office buddies in Jefferson County," Williams said.
Every Child also does appreciation events for DHS workers, offering doughnuts, lunch or an encouraging note.
"We're looking for some key volunteers who have a heart for this mission," Williams said.
Munks appreciates the work Every Child is doing, and she appreciates the encouragement volunteers give.
"(The staff) care so much about the kids they're working for," Munks said. "If you know somebody who works for Child Welfare, just thank them."
She also sees Jefferson County as a caring community.
"Things get noticed," Munks said. School personnel and neighbors call when they suspect child abuse.
"The more eyes we have on kids, the better job we can do looking out for them," she said.
She appreciates the partnership DHS has with the tribes, which allows Native American children to stay connected with their culture.
Jefferson County is good at finding ways to share resources, such as Kids Center in Bend.
She hopes community members will reach out to children in and out of foster care.
"To have one solid adult in their life may make the difference in the child disclosing something or graduating from high school," Munks said.
What: Explore Fostering Coffee House, an opportunity to learn from local foster parents and ask questions
When: 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 7
Where: Madras Brewing Co., 212 SW 4th St.
Sign up: facebook.com/everychildcentraloregon
To talk with a DHS placement certifier about becoming a foster parent, call 541-548-9480.
To inquire about volunteering with Every Child, fill out a Connect form at www.everychildcentraloregon.org.
To report child abuse, call 855-503-SAFE (7233).
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