FORT EDWARD, N.Y. (NEWS10) – For the last 10 years, Washington County has relied on external contract agencies to take care of children in need of foster care and respite homes. Kids in the foster system need a safe place, often coming out of traumatic or abusive home situations.
Now, the county Department of Social Services is taking the work of matching kids to safe homes back into its own hands. The reason for the change: Too many foster kids moving from home to home, with families thinking they’re ready without knowing what it takes to help a young person heal.
“We started seeing a lot of 10-day notices,” said Washington County Social Services Home Finder Lisa Boyce. “A lot of people who try, and then say ‘I can’t handle them.'”
For kids moving through the foster system, a failed attempt with a foster family means another bad experience – another painful memory on top of existing trauma – and another placement. Sometimes, a family may believe they are ready to care for a foster child without understanding the impact the change can have on other family members.
With that in mind, Washington County is looking to meet county families interested in fostering, and help them prepare for the realities that come with the job. A workshop will be held on Thursday, March 2, from 4 to 6 p.m. at Washington County Municipal Center in Fort Edward. All interested individuals aged 21 and older are invited to come and learn what it takes to be the one and only stop a kid needs to make on their foster journey.
In addition to foster families, the county is also seeking respite homes, where foster parents can bring children as another point of care – creating a familial support network bound by caring, even if not by blood.
Multiple points of contact are also a way to keep kids in the foster system connected to their birth parents. Washington County recruits relatives from a child’s birth parents, a move which has led to higher success for many foster children. Other times, case workers come to monitor how kids are doing in adjusting to a new lifestyle.
All of those options also point back to the department’s ultimate goal: Getting the kids back home, once the home is safe. Many foster cases come from homes with parents who are fighting their own battles with mental health or substance abuse. Washington County has seen cases among cultural and financial lines alike, and works to connect parents with foster families so that kids don’t feel split two ways at once.
“It takes away from this feeling that we’re here to take away your children,” said social services caseworker Naomi Palmer. “We just want to help parents identify their children’s needs. We’re working to not only address children’s goals, but also with parents to figure out what services we can implement so the kids can come back home.”
Events like the March workshop are crucial to getting potential foster parents educated on what exactly it is they’re signing up for. The communication problem, like many others, gets trickier still in a rural, spread-out county like this. The rehabilitation and therapy resources that birth parents are directed to are often located in the western end of the county, with less public transportation across its Vermont-facing eastern side.
Washington County is populated with small towns separated by miles of field and farmland, meaning that transportation is tough – especially when some resources are hard to get if you travel far past Fort Edward and Hudson Falls. When choosing foster families, the county wants children to stay in their current school system whenever possible. The same goes for doctors. In cases where that isn’t possible, transportation is a challenge when getting kids from place to place in such a spread-out region.
“That’s why it’s important to check in with family transportation needs. We’ve been creative with transportation, and have plenty of caseworkers who have brought kids where they need to go,” said Boyce.
The March 2 session will be held in training rooms 1 and 2 of the basement level of 383 Broadway, Building B, in Fort Edward. Attendees do not need to stay for the full two hours.