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Guinn budgets raises for foster parents

by Merrie Leininger

Douglas County children who need a temporary home sometimes have to go to Carson City, Reno or even Fallon because of the lack of foster care here.

Jenean Clement, director of Court Appointed Special Advocates, works with foster and biological parents to ensure the needs of children are being met. She said Douglas County has a great gap in care for these children.

“I know of one (foster parent) here who is inundated. Another one, her home is always full, and most of the time, it’s not our kids. It’s frustrating. There are not enough homes or resources,” she said.

She said CASA works with 14 Douglas County children currently in foster care and only three of them have been placed in Douglas County homes.

“It’s a huge problem. One of our obligations is to check on kids in foster care. As volunteers, it is extremely difficult when the children are placed throughout Northern Nevada. How can we begin to promote or encourage often visitation by parents?” Clement said. “Usually, the kids have to get back down here, and sometimes it is a two and a half hour drive one way. So, they get an hour or one and a half hour with their parents and turn around for the drive home.”

Douglas County foster parent Kristine Nash said she often spends time taking her foster children to visit their parents.

“All that time on the road is taking my time away from having more foster kids. I only have one (child out of three) from Douglas County.”

– Increase pay. In an effort to draw more foster parents, Gov. Kenny Guinn is recommending a $5 million increase in the budget to raise the amount foster families are paid.

He has proposed increasing the daily rate paid to parents from $13.28 to $19.50 for children up to age 11 and from $16.33 to $22.50 for children over age 11.

“What Gov. Kenny Guinn proposed, I think it is a real positive thing,” said Cathleen Shane, with the state Child and Family Services division. “The governor is taking a very strong position. We need families caring for children. That’s where children belong.”

According to statistics gathered by Shane, there are 46 licensed foster families in Douglas, Carson and Lyon counties. Shane said numbers aren’t kept for individual counties. She said that number would account for about 100 children, if they were all taking in children.

“On paper, you have a lot of foster homes with vacancies. What you find is they may be vacant, but they are truly not available or they may be interested in taking a child in a certain age range,” she said.

Clement said she doesn’t know the exact number of foster families in Douglas County either.

“It’s either an extremely low number, or they are filled up with Reno’s and Carson’s kids so they are never available. I know of three foster homes. What I’m always told by the division workers is, ‘Everyone’s full, there are no homes.'”

– Incentive. Shane said a study indicated that the increase would be a good incentive for people who may have already been thinking about becoming foster parents.

“We tried to get it more comparable to the actual costs to raise a child. We looked at the USDA recommended guidelines for (what the cost of living in) the urban West is and what would be more comparable in terms of the rate. A foster parent should not be losing money for caring for a child,” Shane said.

Shane said a big problem for the division has been the increase of group homes.

“Around the last 8 or 10 years, we have seen an increase of these group homes. They usually have umbrella organizations and they pay foster parents an increased rate,” she said. “A number of our family foster homes quit to go work for these treatment facilities. We tried to get it more comparable to the actual costs to raise a child. Our thoughts are if we can increase the pool of parents, we can reduce dependency on group homes.”

Clement said she thinks the increase will improve the situation.

“I hate to say it, but sometimes it does boil down to money. If they can go through a private agency and get more money, that’s probably what some people opt to do rather than get the bottom limit for kids,” Clement said. “I think it could make it a difference. Ideally, the best parents aren’t in it for the money. The true heart of a foster parent is for the kids. But their sacrifice is big enough, why should it be financially straining? I don’t think we do near enough to show our appreciation to these foster parents.”

Shane said it is important to have a variety of families to place foster children. Often, siblings have to be separated for placement because one child may have special needs, or the family can’t take care of more than one child.

“In one of our offices, we seemed to have a number of twins and needed homes that can take two babies at a time,” Shane said. “One person was telling me they were talking about splitting these babies up, then she went into a room where they were sleeping in two cribs, and they were reaching through the cribs, holding each other’s hands. She said, ‘We can’t separate these kids.'”

Clement said she has several kids in the CASA program who have been separated from their siblings.

“We’ve got kids who’ve been moved six times in eight months. That’s awful. Trying to keep siblings together during that is difficult and you always try your best to do it,” Clement said. “I’ve got several kids right now who are split from their siblings. So not only have they suffered the loss of their parents, but also the loss of their brother or sister. We try to make sure they have contact, but it’s not the same thing.”

Diane Woodside is a foster parent who says the problem is dire.

“I’m not sure how to bring that to families so they understand the importance of providing some kind of advocacy for these children. I wish I did have the answer,” she said.

To learn more about foster parenting, call (775) 688-2700.

To find out more about CASA, contact Jenean Clement at 782-6247.