With a great need in front of them, organizations around Central Oregon are working to fill in the gap of support that is lacking for area foster kids and families, while also helping to recruit new foster parents.
There are 14 foster homes, not including tribal foster homes, in Jefferson County – of those, only two are general placement homes, and they are both full.
The other 12 homes became certified specifically to care for a family member, while the general placement homes take in other kids in the system. The problem is the general homes are full, and there is nowhere for the kids to go within the county right now.
At its meeting on Feb. 20, the Faith-Based Network heard from several organizations from around Central Oregon about the need not only for foster care within the county but support for foster families.
"I really like Jefferson County, and I believe that they are a community that really cares," said Melissa Williams, director for Every Child Central Oregon, who gave a presentation at the meeting.
Every Child works on educating communities about the need for foster care and offering opportunities to help in a variety of ways, not just by being a foster parent.
She said that the lack of placement options in communities like Jefferson County could be because people don't know that there is a need, which is something the organization tries to combat by holding educational opportunities within communities.
"In any rural community, you are going to have a very small group of people that do a lot of the stuff," she said, adding that until now, those small groups of people have yet to be able to tackle the need here.
"What I am hearing in Jefferson County, which is encouraging to me, is that this is the time to tackle this issue," Williams said.
And that is just what some locals are doing, by working with Every Child, as well as another program called Kindred Connections. A group of people, including Jamie Hurd, are stepping up to become the point people for the local community.
A little while back, Kindred Connections, an organization that focuses on working to keep families together and preventing kids from having to go into the foster care system, approached Hurd with a request for some help with a situation here in Jefferson County.
Kindred Connections, a faith-based organization, works directly with families to reduce the likelihood that their children will enter the child welfare system. They recruit churches to provide all kinds of support, including temporary housing for kids when it's needed.
At the time, Hurd said she wasn't aware of how great the need was.
"Our kids and our families are the beating hearts of our community," Hurd said about the importance of the organizations and the work they do.
She said that through the process of helping with one situation in the community, she got first-hand exposure to the greater need.
From there, she and several others began to form a group to see if they could help. They identified a couple of organizations, including Kindred Connections and Every Child, and began to find out what those groups needed to better support Jefferson County, whether it is material needs or volunteers.
Hurd said the idea, which is still in its early stages, is to have a group of people in the community from churches and community partners that Kindred Connections and Every Child could reach out to with needs. Then the local group can connect with their own networks to fill the need, from food to money to housing.
"This is something that Jefferson County does well. We take care of people, and we take care of our community," Hurd said. "It's a community with not a lot of money, and we have a lot to show for it."
Hurd said they want to make it as simple as they can and have a broad network to fill needs. She said she is confident that once they get going, it will grow and flow well and, "Hopefully it will lead to people wanting to help in a bigger way," she said.
The organizations aim to "wrap around" vulnerable kids and families.
"As a mom, I see all the support my kids need to just to get their shoes on," Hurd said. And that's the bottom line – kids here need support.
The programs offer a way for people to help a little bit at a time, and they are designed that way.
"A lot of the time, people are not ready to be a foster parent yet," Williams said.
So instead, they can provide a car seat, be an office buddy sitting with a kid when they come into care, provide food for a pantry at DHS or a number of other things.
As they engage with kids and the programs, Williams said, they are more likely to become a foster parent later.
Since its launch in the region, beginning last May, Every Child has had success with the program in Deschutes County. It's recruited a total of five new foster families there, with quite a few more going through the process of becoming certified, which can take about six months.
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