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Foster care and adoption can offer homes and love to children who need it

The need for licensed foster care homes continues to grow, both in Kandiyohi County and statewide. The Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners was given an update on the county’s program, while a foster care and adoption panel hosted by the Willmar Public Library offered insight to potential foster and adoptive families.

Conceptual image of family love, togetherness and safety
Foster homes can offer children in need a loving and stable place to land when they are unable to live with their biological parents. In Kandiyohi County and statewide, the need for licensed foster homes is still great.
Stock art / Adobe Stock

WILLMAR — Families can come in all shapes, sizes and colors. They can also be made up of related individuals or people only bound by love and care.

"All children require security, love, acceptance, connectedness and lifetime families to help promote health, growth and development," said Constance Nelson, Kandiyohi County Foster Care licenser. "Children need stable families and supportive communities, especially during their early years, to form the secure attachments vital to developing positive self-esteem, meaningful relationships, school achievement and success in the adult world."

When parents are unable to care for their children, whether it is due to substance abuse, mental health issues or other concerns, in some cases a foster home steps up to fill that gap in a child's life, providing that care and emotional support they could not get at home.

"It is really a collaboration among agency workers, families and other community resources here in our county," Nelson said April 19 when speaking to the Kandiyohi County Board meeting.

Kandiyohi County Foster Care Causes.jpg
The number of children in the Kandiyohi County foster care system has doubled over the last five years. Currently, more than 60% are placed with family members.
Data and charts by Kandiyohi County Health and Human Services

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Children in need of safekeeping

In the past five years, the number of children requiring foster care has doubled in Kandiyohi County, with 147 children in the system as of March 2022. Statewide, there were approximately 8,600 children a day in foster care in 2020, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. The causes for the Kandiyohi County increase include caretaker substance abuse, abandonment, physical abuse and neglect.

"Over half of our placements are due to parents' or caregivers' drug use," with methamphetamine being a very big issue, Nelson said. Minnesota Department of Health data show more than a quarter of out-of-home placement is because of drug use.

Kandiyohi County Foster Care Numbers.jpg
Caregiver drug use is the number one reason why children are placed in foster care in Kandiyohi County.
Data and charts by Kandiyohi County Health and Human Services

County social workers cannot remove a child from a home without a court order, law enforcement hold order or a voluntary placement agreement, Nelson said. When those orders come through, social workers sometimes need to act fast to find a home for the impacted children.

"Kandiyohi County is very fortunate to have nearly 50 licensed foster homes. However, our homes fill up fast," Nelson said.

A social worker's first option is to find a relative who can care for and house the child. The state wants to see at least 35% of a county's foster care children to be placed with their own family. Kandiyohi County sees at least 60% taken in by family. When family is not an option, an unrelated foster home is usually the answer.

As of the third week in April, the county only had six open slots for children who could not be placed with family. The county also lacks licensed foster homes willing to take older children and teenagers.

"We need more homes that do not need child care or are not impacted by the stigma of caring for our teenagers," Nelson said.

Kandiyohi County Foster Care Age.jpg
The greatest fostering need in Kandiyohi County is for homes willing to take in teenagers.
Data and charts by Kandiyohi County Health and Human Services

That is a message echoed on the state level as well. During a virtual panel discussion on adoption and foster care conducted facilitated April 26 by the Willmar Public Library, Kim Young, from the MN ADOPT organization that works to strengthen adoptive, foster care and kinship families, said half of the children in the system are teenagers.

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"There is huge need for foster and adopt for school age kids," Young said.

Opening your home

Whether a person is willing to care for a relative's child or wants to open their home to any foster child, they need to be licensed, either through their county or an agency such as Nexus-Kindred Family Healing. The first step in the process is simple but a big one.

"First you just need to make a phone call," Nelson said.

Conceptual image of adoption
While the main goal of county foster care programs is to reunite children with their biological parents, sometimes that is just not possible. Adoption can offer those children their forever homes.
Stock art / Adobe Stock

The process to become a licensed home is in-depth, though both counties and private agencies must complete similar steps. There is paperwork, as well as background checks of everyone living in a home over the age of 13, training and ensuring the home itself is safe. Potential foster families who are caring for a related child can do the licensing process with the child in residency. Other homes must complete the process before a child will be placed.

"It takes about three to four months," said Nancy Kagel of Nexus-Kindred, during the panel discussion. "It does not move very quickly."

For families interested in adopting a child, it might make more sense to go through an agency. At the county level, the main goal is to get children back home with their biological families.

"The reunification plan is always the primary goal," Nelson said on the April 26 panel.

In addition to the initial training foster families must do, there is also annual training and other educational opportunities. Current and retired foster parents who spoke on the April 26 panel urged potential foster or adoptive parents to obtain training in how to handle children who have experienced trauma.

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"They all process that trauma differently," said Sara Budde, a foster and adoptive parent. "You have to be prepared."

It is also important to have a support system of family, friends and professional staff in place, to assist not only the child but the foster family as well.

"This is not a one-person thing," Budde said. "It is a team effort."

Conceptual image of family and unity
Pretty much anyone can become a successful foster care parent, but the process involved in ensuring foster families have the needed support network can be intensive.
Stock art / Adobe Stock

The perfect family

While becoming a licensed foster or adoptive home might take awhile, it is a role a variety of individuals can play. Prospective foster parents and families don't need to have a lot of experience in raising children. While there might be some additional challenges in caring for a child in the foster care system, just like being a biological parent, there is a lot of on-the-job training.

"You can be single, you can be married, you can be a same-gender family, you can rent, you can own your own home, you can live in the city, you can live in the country, you can have a lot of kids, you can have no kids," Kagel said.

It does take a special person to be a foster parent.

"Foster parents are asked to wear many hats," Nelson told the Kandiyohi County Board during the commissioners' meeting. "They are required to meet all the typical needs of raising a child plus all the extra things."

Family love and unity concept
Adults interested in being a foster or adoptive parent don't have to have a lot of parenting experience and can come from a wide range of backgrounds. A family can be made up of many different types of people.
Stock art / Adobe Stock

Plenty of good advice was shared on the foster and adoption panel. Prospective parents were told to be flexible, understanding and creative. Marilyn Yokum, a retired foster parent who helped children for 40 years, said building those successful relationships requires honesty and understanding that these children were raised differently.

"You need to be able to really listen, to be able to talk with them," especially in regard to teenagers, Yokum said.

Despite the challenges that come from fostering, both Budde and Yokum said it is definitely worth it and will probably be the best thing a person does in their life.

"If your heart is not broken when they walk out the door, you are doing it wrong," Budde said.

Shelby Lindrud is a reporter with the West Central Tribune of Willmar. Her focus areas are arts and entertainment, agriculture, features writing and the Kandiyohi County Board.

She can be reached via email slindrud@wctrib.com or direct 320-214-4373.


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The Tribune publishes Records as part of its obligation to inform readers about the business of public institutions and to serve as a keeper of the local historical record. All items are written by Tribune staff members based on information contained in public documents from the state court system and from law enforcement agencies. It is the Tribune’s policy that this column contain a complete record. Requests for items to be withheld will not be granted.