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Pandemic worsens chronic shortage of children and youth foster homes

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Recent data from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services indicates that, in Ohio, the number of children being cared for outside of their family homes has increased dramatically since 2013. And the COVID pandemic has added to an already existing shortage of foster homes. To find out more about this, WYSO’s Jerry Kenney Spoke with Craig Rickett — Associate Director of Montgomery County Job and Family Services Children's Services Division. He says in 2018, the agency licensed 60 new foster homes in the county.

Children's Services leaders say they are currently getting three to four applications a month. They hope more individuals and families will consider fostering children in need. Statewide more than 15,000 children are placed in foster homes. If you’re in Montgomery County, you can get more information by calling 937-224-KIDS.

Craig Rickett: Pre-pandemic, if we look at the 2019 calendar year, we had added 51 new foster homes through the licensure process, which is pretty exceptional. It's about four and a half a month. 2021, that number dropped to all the way to 2022. So, you know, less than 50%. And so far, this year, you know, about three quarters of the way through the year, we're at 11 new foster homes. So, the number is just declining. You know, even if we flash back to 2019 when we had 51 newly licensed homes, we would have accepted more. I mean, there's this that chronic need.

Jerry Kenney: Can you tell me about any discussions that have taken place within your agency as to what you're doing to try and overcome the current situation?

Rickett: Yeah, one of the things we're trying to do is we did recently bring back, I guess, for lack of a better word, our foster home recruitment position. We had changed the focus of that position. That may also be an impact as to why we've seen the numbers go down. So, we're excited to have somebody relatively new in the position, not new to us or child welfare, but new to the position to be able to go out and do some recruitment. And one of the things that we've always relied upon as far as the traditional kind of recruitment is, we would do it at a lot of festivals and fairs and to set up informational booths and to talk to prospective folks. And obviously, with the pandemic, in-person activities weren't occurring. So, it was a little more difficult, obviously, to get the word out to newly interested folks. The other thing is we partner with our foster parents. We have our Foster Parent Advisory Council, and I am and our deputy assistant director, Janet Cole, and one of our department managers, Patricia Hobson, meet monthly with representatives of our foster parents that are on that advisory council. Because another thing we found is that one of the most effective ways of recruitment is the foster parents themselves recruiting other foster parents, and they then become licensed. A lot of times we have we have generational families. We have mothers and fathers, and their children grow up and say, 'you know what? This is what I grew up with and I want to do the same thing.' So, we're continuing to work with the Foster Care Advisory Council on what we can do jointly to attract more foster parents.

Kenney: What do you look for in a foster family or a foster home? The people who offer to serve in this capacity. What is it about them?

Rickett: Yeah, I think it's just an unbelievable gift of giving and selflessness. It can be difficult. You know, the whole definition, if you will, of fostering is temporary in nature. And we're talking about human beings. We're talking about vulnerable children, vulnerable families that have experienced some level of trauma that has warranted children being taken out of the home. Everyone's traumatized as a result of that. You know, we have all sorts of different folks ages, race, gender, gender identity that do this, that come, that become licensed. But the one thing they all have in common is that that selflessness to give. And that to me is really it's two things. One, it's really the only precursor. And two, it's something that makes them very, very special and unique.

Kenney: If a family, couple, person recognizes themselves in the words you're saying, how can they become involved as a foster family?

Rickett: Two ways. One, you can call 937-224-kids. That's 937-224-5437. There'll be a series of prompts and that'll be directed to our foster care inquiry caseworker. Secondly, they can go to MCOhio.org/children's services to click on those links. And ultimately what that will lead you to is the foster care interest meeting, which we hold monthly, which is the first step in the process.

Kenney: Craig Rickett is associate director of Montgomery County Job and Family Services Children's Services Division. Thank you so much for your time today.

Rickett: Thank you. I appreciate it.

Jerry Kenney was introduced to WYSO by a friend and within a year of first tuning in became an avid listener and supporter. He began volunteering at the station in 1991 and began hosting Alpha Rhythms in February of 1992. Jerry joined the WYSO staff in 2007 as a host of All Things Considered and soon transitioned into hosting Morning Edition. In addition to now hosting All Things Considered, Jerry is the host and producer of WYSO Weekend, WYSO's weekly news and arts magazine. He has also produced several radio dramas for WYSO in collaboration with local theater companies. Jerry has won several Ohio AP awards as well as an award from PRINDI for his work with the WYSO news department. Jerry says that the best part of his job is being able to talk to people in the community and share their experiences with WYSO listeners.