A Crisis in Care
The staggering statistics involving kids in foster care
On any given day, most social workers in our region look at the rising caseload that sits on their desks. Many carry three times the number of cases that is ideal. Workers oversee anywhere from 40 to 60 cases at a time, trying to make sure each child supervised is safe while they wait for a foster or adoptive family to come forward.
If you ask Wendy’s Wonderful Kids recruiter Diana Tolstedt, who helps comb through the tougher cases looking for solutions, there’s a crisis in foster care. It stems from a large number of kids entering the system combined with the lack of families willing to temporarily or permanently care for these children.
“Children who are waiting for a forever family have experienced a lot of trauma, grief and loss,” Diana says. Right now, she’s overseeing 13 children. Some of the children are older, some have severe disabilities, and others might still carry the scars of severe abuse or neglect. “Children heal in families,” she says. “Finding, educating and supporting these families is a challenge because of many shortfalls in funding, training and resources.”
Diana knows that while these kids sit in limbo, social workers are fighting an uphill battle. “Trying to support and meet all the needs of the children, birth families and foster families is a huge challenge, almost impossible,” she says.
A LOOK AT FOSTER CARE BY THE NUMBERS
Of the 810 children in foster care in Yellowstone County, 54 children are available for adoption. These are children who have no identified family for them. Statewide, the number of children waiting is 426.
The average age of a child in foster care is 8.
In Montana, roughly 55 teens will reach the age of 18 and “age out” of the system, meaning they will become legal adults with no place to call home and no parents to call on for guidance.
Of those children who age out of the system, 20% will become homeless, half will be unemployed by the age of 24, fewer than 3% will earn a college degree, and 71% of women will be pregnant by the age of 21.
YOU CAN HELP
Visit the Rimrock Mall’s Heart Gallery in Billings to see the faces and stories of some of the area’s adoptable kids. Then, consider becoming a foster family. To date, this adoption awareness campaign has resulted in 75% of these children finding a foster or adoptive placement. To learn about upcoming foster family training, call (406) 657-3120.
BECOME AN ADVOCATE
If your family isn’t in a place to foster a child, why not be an advocate? CASA of Yellowstone County is constantly seeking volunteers to become Court Appointed Special Advocates. These volunteers watch over a foster child’s case and advocate for them in court. To find out more, visit yellowstonecasa.org.
DONATE TO AN ORGANIZATION THAT ASSISTS FOSTER CHILDREN
Resource Room for Child Protective Services
Right now, Yellowstone County’s Child and Family Services workers have a room stocked with emergency items such as pajamas, underwear, baby formula, diapers, toiletries like shampoo and toothpaste, plus clothing for children of all ages to help those families caring for kids in emergency care. If you’d like to donate to this cause, please call (406) 657-3120 to find out how you can help.
Donate to the Reach Higher Summit for Youth in Foster Care
The Reach Higher Summit for Youth in Foster Care is a free, four-day event for foster kids aged 16 to 19 who need help transitioning into work or college. This year’s camp, set for June 19-22 at the Montana Tech campus, will help foster teens experience college by staying in the dorms, attending life skills classes and even eating in the university’s cafeteria. Not only will attendees earn a free laptop to help them in their college application process, they can apply for education and training vouchers of up to $5,000 a year to help cover their costs. Right now, 70% of all foster kids have the desire to go to college. Only 20% attend and just 3% graduate. Contribute by calling Rhoda Safford with Reach Higher Montana at (406) 495-7354.