LSI: Foster care system facing epidemic

Thursday, March 7, 2019

STORM LAKE — Lutheran Services in Iowa is in desperate need of foster care parents. Right now in Western Iowa, there are 60 children waiting to be placed in a home.

“We are in dire, dire need of homes,” said Amber Ullom, LSI caseworker for foster care and adoption support.

With opioids and methamphetamine hitting Iowa hard, she says foster care needs are “in an epidemic.”

Iowa is experiencing nine times the national average of kids coming into foster care — often going to a shelter until they can find placement, with shelters currently full.

To make it worse, current foster homes are already at their full capacity in caring for these children.

But you may be able to help with the shortage. It only takes one caring adult to make a difference in a child’s life.

First, you should know who these children are and be prepared for their needs.

It’s not the child’s fault.

“Every child entering the foster care system has had some form of trauma,” Ullom said.

Most are removed from their family’s care by the Department of Human Services.

While physical abuse, sexual abuse, and emotional maltreatment aren’t uncommon reasons for removal, the number one reason children enter foster care is parental neglect.

Many have experienced abuse, but all experience the loss of their families and home in foster care, no matter how difficult their familiar surroundings were.

Children can have a variety of mental, physical, emotional and behavioral needs.

Foster parents must be at least 21, but there is no age limit to those wishing to provide a home.

“You can’t parent these children like a ‘normal’ child,” Ullom said, due to the trauma they have experienced.

But you are never “stuck” with a child that is not a good fit for your family, she says.

The average length of a foster placement is about six months. DHS aims to give a child permanent placement — whether it’s back with their birth parents or with foster parents who can care for them — within two years.

“Reunification is our only goal,” said Ullom. But for some children, birth parents may never be rehabilitated, making them adoptable.

“You will have to participate in the foster process if you want to eventually adopt a child,” she said.

Those who wish to become a licensed foster parent must go through an application process, complete a background check, reference checks, classes and get their home up to code with a multipart home study.

Foster homes require 40 square feet per child in a bedroom. Children of the opposite sex can share a bedroom until age 6, then are required to be in a bedroom with only those of the same sex.

LSI works with parents through all parts of the process and after placement to ensure that foster parents are never alone, turning your needs into strengths until you are licensed.

Those convicted of or charged of a crime will have their application and circumstances evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

“It’s not easy, but it’s worth it,” Ullom said.

To learn more about becoming foster parents, connect with LSI at lsiowa.org, on Facebook at LSI Iowa, or by contacting Ullom at 263-9341.

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