TWIN FALLS — Recruiters have seen a surge of interest in foster parenting since the Times-News this spring published a three-part series on Idaho’s severe shortage of foster parents.
“It’s been hard to keep up with it all,” said Ellen Leavitt, who handles foster parent licensing for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare’s Twin Falls office.
But it’s a good problem to have.
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Health and Welfare this spring was desperate for more local foster parents. And despite the higher numbers of people going through training, south-central Idaho needs still more.
The Times-News project in April and May told the story of Idaho’s foster parenting shortage and other flaws in its child welfare system through the eyes of current and former foster parents and foster children. A February report by the state Legislature’s Office of Performance Evaluations illuminated the problems and proposed solutions, including doing a better job of retaining foster parents.
While the need escalates, south-central Idaho suffers from a severe shortage of people who want to become foster parents, and they quit at nearly the same rate they are recruited. But it takes more than interest. Prospective foster parents must complete a months-long process to become licensed. They must face whatever problems the children bring from situations of abuse or neglect — burns, violent outbursts, distrust. And they often feel overwhelmed, asked to take on more and more children.
From March 2014 to March 2016, the number of Idaho foster homes dropped by 8 percent or 88 homes. Officials attribute that decline to foster parents’ frustrations with the system, life changes or successful adoption. And others who became foster parents to care for specific children dropped out after that need passed.
Since the OPE report came out, Idaho legislators approved two new social worker positions across the state, Leavitt said. One of them started July 1 here in south-central Idaho.
During a mid-April information session in Twin Falls for potential foster parents, 16 people showed up and Health and Welfare employees had to keep adding chairs to a meeting room.
“The most we’d ever seen was five,” said Marjean Hazen, child welfare supervisor for the agency’s Twin Falls office.
Health and Welfare’s training classes for potential new foster parents have also been full — even overcrowded. Health and Welfare added another Twin Falls class section to meet the demand.
A full class has 25 participants, Hazen said; now they’ve had as many as 30. That’s up significantly from before the newspaper series published.
“We were doing good to have 15 participants,” Hazen said.
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The quality of potential foster parents is also excellent, Leavitt said, adding they come from many walks of life. Some thought about fostering for a while, Hazen said, but are now pursuing licenses after hearing there’s such a huge need. Others were interested in adopting but decided to open their homes to foster children.
In mid-July, Health and Welfare’s Twin Falls office was working on more home studies than usual — one of the final hurdles before a potential foster parent can gain a license and take in children.