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Need for foster families on rise
MONROE - The Green County foster care program has seen five homes stop taking kids in the past year, and Green County Children Youth and Families coordinator Jennifer Amacher said the foster care program is in a bit of a "crisis."

Amacher recently took on the position of coordinator at CYF and acts in a supervisory role for the foster care program. She said the program lost a number of the foster homes from last year because many of the families adopted the children they were caring for.

"It's certainly beneficial for the children who get stability, but we lose the option to place new kids," she said.

She said it is difficult to recruit new foster parents, compounding the current problem of fewer homes available to take in children. The amount of paperwork and commitment to training can dissuade some families from signing up. She said developing plans for the foster homes and children can be complicated and they have had to resort to having a child in one home for a couple weeks and then transition to another home.

"We always manage to finagle a plan," she said. "It's not ideal for the child to move back and forth but we try and work something out."

Angela Wardlow, coordinator of the Green County foster care program, said becoming a foster parent is an arduous process involving hours of training, piles of paperwork, invasive interviews and background checks, and the children tend to be victims of abuse.

"Some people can feel overwhelmed by the paperwork, and that's where we lose a lot of our families," Wardlow said.

Amacher said the foster care program had 19 homes and 37 children housed in 2013. They currently have 14 foster homes and 21 children in those homes. Of those 14 homes, four are currently available to take children in. There is also one home that strictly does respite care, which is designed to give other foster parents a break if they are unable to care for the child. Respite homes only take on children briefly and then the child is sent back to its original home. Wardlow said they have had to send kids to other outlying communities in the past due to a lack of available homes in the county.

"We try and make it so they don't have to switch schools and lose their friends, but it doesn't always work out that way," Wardlow said.

Amacher said the end-goal with foster care is always to reunite the child with their biological family. She said when children enter the system due to neglect, abuse or a family that is unable to care for the child, they are set up with a foster home with a 15-month trial period.

Wardlow said most children are reunified with their family within 12-18 months. During that 15-month period, case workers will monitor the birth-parents to see that the situation that caused the child to be removed has been rectified. If the negative living situation persists, the child will stay in the foster home for a longer period and could be adopted, but most foster parents become so with the express purpose of fostering children, not adopting them, Amacher said.

"The misconception is that the child is automatically adopted," Amacher said. "Reunification is always the goal, but there certainly have been adoptions by foster parents."

Amacher said she has noticed a trend of grandparents stepping up and fostering the children. She said they currently have four homes that are relative foster homes.

Wardlow said last year they had 519 reports of abuse and/or neglect and investigated 244 of those reports. As of June this year they have investigated 140 cases, which she said is about average. Amacher said there have been a few instances in the past where children have experienced such abuse or neglect that they need a treatment level of care before being considered for the foster program. She said it can take time for the child to rebound from the abuse or neglect before they can find a home for them.

"Some of our kids aren't easy," Amacher said.

Wardlow said the difficulty of care for these children is why foster parents are required to go through 30 hours of training within the first two years of being licensed and must continue training, completing 70 hours of it per year.

Wardlow said there are more than 5,100 families licensed as foster care providers in the state. She said on average about 7,000 children will be placed in a foster home per year.