By Nancy Tannler

Driving through SE Portland neighborhoods, you might have noticed yard signs encouraging foster care. The Oregon Department of Human Resources (DHS) is the agency that facilitates this program, one that runs throughout the US.

Here on the eastside, there is an increasing need for foster parents. Hopefully this outreach might inspire those with an open heart to give a child a home for awhile or possibly forever.

As early as 1863, foster care began to replace orphanages. Charles Loving Brace, the minister and director of the New York Children’s Aid society, began the foster home movement.

Brace was concerned about the large number of immigrant children sleeping in the streets of New York so he placed an advertisement in the more prosperous areas of the city for families willing to provide free homes for these children.

There was some abuse of this situation where children became more of indentured servants than a charitable recipient, but his actions prevailed.

In the early 1900s, social service agencies began to supervise foster parents and the federal government began giving financial and professional support to family foster homes.

Recently, Magda Bejarano, Foster Parent Retention and Recruitment at DHS, reached out to The Southeast Examiner for a platform to explain the current needs of foster care in our community and to break some of the myths about being a provider.

She also wanted to express a broad thank you to the local donors who made their recent holiday celebrations such a success.

The celebration in SE was held at The Gathering Church on SE 88th where they served over 200 foster children and their families. The church donated the space and along with 25 businesses, non-profits and faith communities, they provided food, gifts and entertainment to make a special evening for these families.

Bejarano said that, in the Oregon legislature this past year, 16 petitions were dedicated statewide for the enhancement and improvement of the foster care system. Multnomah County received two of the petitions.

“This gives the department a new focus and lots of hope,” Bejarano said, “and they will enable us to revamp our local efforts to recruit new foster families and provide the support they need on their foster care journey.”

In the Portland Metropolitan area there are 697 families who participate in foster care, yet the need is about twice that number she said.

The average time a child stays in foster care is around 570 days. On average, 60 percent return to their biological family. Foster parents may choose the type of placements they can manage whether it lasts a few weeks, months or even years.

These are regular kids ranging in age from infants to teenagers and they come to the attention of DHS for different reasons.

“We don’t try to sugar coat the challenges of being a foster family,” Bejarano said.

Children enter foster homes because of abuse or neglect that made their home unsafe. These children may have higher needs related to their experiences, including the grief and loss of being taken from their families.

Thanks to services provided by DHS, a multi-tiered approach to help these families begins once a child is brought to their attention.

The most important first step is to find a safe, secure place for a child or children to go to. “Because of the shortage of foster care, these children sometimes are lodged in temporary places like motels; not the best environment for them,” Bejarano said.

While DHS works to find a semi-permanent location for a child/children to stay, they also begin to work with the parents to help them with the issues that lead to the dissolution of their family unit.

“We begin to talk about the crisis and get all the services in place. This includes treatment for substance abuse and mental health, food insecurity and housing,” she said. The goal is to prepare them to parent again.

They institutionalize high needs children so foster family’s are not expected to deal with anyone that needs more than loving kindness. In some instances, adoption is also a solution.

The definition of a foster care family is fairly loose. The main criteria is the ability to exercise sound judgment and demonstrate a responsible, stable and emotionally mature lifestyle. This can include older adults, single people or couples with or without children.

Some of the highest needs right now are foster families willing to care for siblings and Native American, African American and Latino foster families. The outreach to the SE community is in keeping with the desire to keep children close to where they are used to living.

Each foster parent is required to have 30 hours of training which will qualify them for two years. A monthly check, which may vary in amount, is issued for each child’s care expenses.

There are many different ways to serve with DHS and the need is great.

Visit the DHS website for answers to many common questions at oregon.gov/DHS/Children/fostercare/Pages/index.aspx. or email Bejarano at magda.y.bejarano@dhsoha.state.or.us.