Need for foster families growing in Central Montana

By 
MIRIAM CAMPAN
Reporter
Tuesday, May 21, 2019
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Meagan Baldry, and her husband Kalvin, accept the responsibilities and the rewards of fostering a child in need.

Photo courtesy of Meagan Baldry

Sesame Street’s website invites people to meet Karli, the newest muppet, whose character is in foster care. As cute and as green as Karli is, the puppet also brings awareness to viewers that May is National Foster Care month.  

According to childwelfare.gov, “in 1988 President Reagan issued the first Presidential proclamation that established May as National Foster Care Month.”

Highlighting the month brings awareness that foster care parents are needed nationally and locally. 

“We do know there is a great need [for foster families]. Eight to 10 more families are needed in the Lewistown area, and one to two families are needed per surrounding community,” said Pamela Nelson, state outreach coordinator for Child Bridge, a group offering support for foster families that often works with Child Protection Services.  

It is the responsibility of CPS to respond to the needs of families in crisis and provide a safe environment for children at risk.  

“We get referrals that are drug and domestic-violence related,” said Elizabeth Bruchez, Child Protection Specialist Supervisor with Child and Family Services Division. “We go into a home and we assess for safety. Does the child have access to drugs and or paraphernalia? Is there physical neglect that results from lack of food and primary basic needs? Is the child’s life in danger?”

If the child is in danger, a foster family placement is considered only after other possible alternatives are exhausted. 

“We recognize how important it is to keep kids with the parents. When that is not possible we always look at kinship care first - an aunt, or a grandparent, or other family member. It could also be ‘fictive’ kin, such as a close friend. As a last resort, a licensed foster parent is contacted for placement,” Bruchez said.

 

What does it take to become a foster parent?

Bruchez said, “Foster families are great. They take this high-need child into their homes and hearts, knowing the goal is to reunite them with their birth parents. Sometimes the child is in their home for only a couple of weeks. Sometimes the child can be adopted.”

According to DPHHS, “anyone who is at least 18 years of age and in good physical and mental health may apply to become a foster parent.”

However, Bruchez said, “It’s a little more complex than that. We try to make the best fit for the child. However, three characteristics for foster parents are patience, flexibility in their mindset and time schedule, and, most important, compassion. Foster parents must understand our goal is to return the child to their birth parents.”

First-time foster parents Meagan and Kalvin Baldry of Lewistown do understand. They have been licensed foster parents for the past five months. 

“We were struggling to have another baby and thought fostering would give us a chance at adopting and also give kids a home . . . even if for only a little while,” said Meagan.

Licensed to foster a child between the ages of 0-3, their current foster child is “at that age. She giggles and cackles at everything. She is hilarious,” said Meagan.

Flexibility has assisted the Baldrys to accommodate the needs of this sudden addition to their family. 

“We sleep when she sleeps,” Meagan said.

The couple understands fully the importance of returning their foster child to her birth family.

 “Just to see her happy while her [birth parents] do what they need to do to get her back is very rewarding,” Meagan said.

 

The process of becoming a foster parent

Nicole Banach, Montana DPHHS Family Resource Specialist, described the formalities the Baldrys accepted to become foster parents.

“They have to fill out an application through Lewistown Child Protective Services or online at adoptivekids.org. Every adult has to undergo numerous background checks. Once they fill out the packet and we get their checks back, they are invited to a mandatory foster care training,” Banach said.

Banach added, “We talk about abuse and neglect and some behaviors that foster parents might see.  We talk about the legal process and what the court system will look like, and along with that, the initial in-person training. There is an additional 10 hours of online training. Prospective foster families have a whole year to complete the application and decide if this is the right choice for their family.” 

The Baldrys decided it was the right choice for their family. 

“We are currently licensed for 0-3 age range. This next year when we reapply we will be looking at 0-4. But we are not equipped for a teenager,” Megan added. “Unfortunately there are older kids [needing foster homes].” 

According to Katie Gerten of Youth Dynamics in Missoula, “The State’s most recent numbers, which were tallied at the end of August, 2018, show nearly 4,000 kids in foster care and currently only 400 foster homes across Montana.”

Clearly there is a need in Central Montana and across the state for foster homes, not just in May but every month of the year. For more information, visit the website https://dphhs.mt.gov/CFSD/Fosterparent.

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