Add To Favorites
Need for MN foster families urgent as opioid crisis displaces more children
Saint Paul Pioneer Press - 1/19/2020
Jan. 19--Foster parents Yalanda and Mickrin Green have seen children come and go through their St. Paul house over the past six years. It's the ones that keep coming back that hurt their hearts the most.
"I have a lot of returning kids," Yalanda Green said. "When it's time for them to go, some ask, 'Can I please stay, please?' That's the hardest part, when you see some of them go and you know they're not ready."
The ones who return, she said, often belong to parents struggling with drug addiction. The parents get addicted, have their children removed from the home, get clean, get their kids back and repeat the cycle.
Statewide, parental drug abuse puts the most kids in foster care. The numbers keep rising, prompting agencies to urgently seek more families to take the children in.
According to the Minnesota Department of Human Services, in 2018 there were 10,050 kids in foster care, an increase of 14 percent in just two years. Of those, 32 percent were removed from the home due to parents abusing opioids and methamphetamines, almost double what it was in 2013.
"We don't have the capacity to place all the children," said Rachel Osborne, a foster care coordinator for Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota.
THE OPIOID CRISIS
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 130 people in the U.S. die daily after overdosing on opioids.
In Minnesota, the trend started upward in 2000, peaking in 2017 with 422 opioid-related deaths statewide. It showed signs of slowing in 2018, possibly the result of aggressive measures being taken at the state level.
The state Department of Human Services plans to distribute more than $17 million in federal State Opioid Response grants over the next two years. The money will fund naloxone distribution, treatment resources and the treatment workforce.
Minnesota will also collect about $20 million per year from registration fees imposed on opioid manufacturers and distributors under a new state law that took effect July 1, 2019. Much of the proceeds will fund prevention strategies to reduce opioid deaths and overdoses. The other funds will reimburse Minnesota counties for child-protection costs related to families harmed by the opioid epidemic.
But state initiatives can only do so much, and agencies promoting foster care need boots-on-the-ground help to catch kids caught in the fallout of parental drug abuse.
"Our greatest need right now is for families who are passionate about working with teens, sibling groups, children with mental health diagnoses and those that are informed about childhood trauma," said Christopher Burns, spokesman for Ramsey County's Health and Wellness Department.
BECOMING A FOSTER PARENT
Foster parenting is not for the faint of heart, but it can be very rewarding, Yalanda Green said.
After working as a teacher in a Minneapolis Head Start program for 15 years and raising four children of her own, Green has always had a heart for displaced kids, probably because she was once one herself.
When she was 5 years old, she and her sister spent about six months in foster care when her mother was unable to care for them.
"I remember what it felt like to be a foster kid, to be in a stranger's house, not knowing this person, hoping that everything works out, waiting to see hopefully that my mom's going to come today," she said.
She met several kids at her Head Start job that she wanted to take home with her, knowing they were not getting nurtured properly in their own homes.
Finally, when her youngest son turned 18, Green and her husband, now both in their 50s and grandparents to six, decided the time was right to become foster parents. They specialize in sibling groups, so their four-bedroom, 60-year-old house is often busting at the seams with children who spend between a few months to several years at a time with them.
"In the summertime, the neighbors look over and our yard is full," she said, laughing. They currently have nine children in the house, four of them on track to be adopted by the Greens in March.
"It's a very rewarding job," she said, "but you have to have patience. It's going to be a difficult road at the beginning. You're gonna make mistakes, but it's going to smooth out as you start to do it."
Green encourages folks thinking about fostering to look into it, and know that they will receive training from the county. It takes two to six months to become licensed in foster care. Potential families undergo a background study and home visit, and adults receive training in the areas of trauma response and CPR.
As a former teacher, Green has what she calls a "tool belt" of tricks to deal with behavioral issues from children. The training can help newbies put a few tools in their own belts.
"Some things you use with your own kids you're not going to be able to use with foster kids," she said. Also, she adds, be genuine. "Kids can feel when it's real and when it's not."
THE ADOPTION OPTION
In most cases, the primary goal of foster care is eventually to reunite children with their biological family. In Ramsey County, 85 percent of children are fostered in a relative's home.
When that's not possible, adoption may enter the picture, as it did with the four sisters the Greens fostered for three years.
"They had no one willing to take all of them," Green said.
Approximately 905 of the more than 10,000 children in foster care in the state have an immediate need for a permanent, loving family, according to LSS of Minnesota, which partners in adoption with the Children's Home Society of Minnesota.
The agency said for families wanting to provide permanence for children in foster care, there is little to no cost for adoption and available support.
The most important requirements for foster care are dedication and the ability to provide a stable setting for the child.
"Their entire life can turn out completely different if they have the nurturing environment and the love of an adult that can help them," Osborne said.
TO LEARN MORE
Those seeking more information on the steps to becoming a foster parent can go to the state Department of Human Services website at mn.gov/dhs.
This report includes information from Forum News Service.
(c)2020 the Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minn.)
Visit the Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minn.) at www.twincities.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.