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Foster Caregivers Needed In County

By Staff | Mar 25, 2016

(Submitted photo) (Left to right) Pierce County Social Services Director Melinda Bischoff-Voller; Jennifer Wight, family service specialist/child protection; Oriana Peterson, licensed social worker/foster care.

Foster care homes are in short supply all over North Dakota, and Pierce County is no exception according to Melinda Bischoff-Voeller, social services director for the county.

Foster care is needed when children are no longer able to live in their family home. Usually the county agency receives a report of abuse or neglect which comes from law enforcement, but which could come from anyone concerned for the welfare and safety of children. A child protection assessment begins and if there are safety concerns for the child or children they can be removed from the home. Social services first attempts to place the child with relatives, such as grandparents, but if that is not possible placement in a licensed foster home is the next step.

Currently in Pierce County there is only one licensed foster home, and social services is in the process of licensing two more. But with 12 children in the system social workers have had to place children outside the county. “We have four in McHenry County right now, and we’ve placed them in Fargo, Minot and other towns,” Bischoff-Voeller said. “County Agencies are looking for homes weekly.”

The length of placement varies case by case. Emergency care is for a short time, and some homes are licensed for emergency care only, such as a middle-of-the-night crisis. Some children are in the system for two or three years or more. Typically, when they are 18 they age out of the system, but an option, the 18 plus program, allows them to remain in foster care until age 21 if they meet certain criteria. If the child chooses that route, they can receive assistance for living skills and college costs.

Licensed foster parents receive a payment to assist in caring for the children according to Bischoff-Voeller. Some families who might want to become licensed are hesitant, she added, because their income level does not allow them to take on any more expenses. Social services can help that situation, though, with daycare reimbursement and medical assistance for the children. A family receiving food assistance would receive more based on the additional household members. Basically, foster children receive any type of services that are needed for them, she said, and every effort is made to keep the children in the routine they are accustomed to, attending the same daycare, for instance, or the same school.

Another option for foster care service is PATH, a private, non-profit organization which provides treatment for foster children with severe emotional and behavioral problems, and there is a great need for homes there also, Bischoff-Voeller said. The nearest PATH office is offered in Devils Lake or Minot. There is a PATH home available in Benson County.

Pierce County Social Services currently has a staff of nine. The director plus two others are directly involved with foster care, and Bischoff-Voeller has one open position she is attempting to fill. There is also a parent aide who helps supervise visits between foster children and their parents. Social workers must be available to handle cases no matter what the time of day, she said. The increased population in the state has increased the number of child protection reports and the number of children in foster care not just in Pierce County, but throughout the state. The county and state fund foster care, but the parents must pay child support when their children are in the system.

Anyone who is interested in becoming a licensed foster parent can call Pierce County Social Services at 701-776-5818 and talk to either the director, Bischoff-Voeller, or the foster care case manager, Oriana Peterson. Prospective foster parents must complete some paperwork, submit to a background check and attend a training session in Minot. The training helps prepare foster parents for the different types of situations they may encounter. Age is not a barrier to becoming a foster parent and grandparents who are caring for grandchildren can be licensed. Singles are welcome and holding a job outside the home is not an issue. “We look at each child individually, and also let foster homes choose the ages they want to care for,” Bischoff-Voeller said. “Foster care tries to find the best fit for everyone involved.”

“Our job is to make sure kids are safe and try to keep families intact,” she concluded. “I can’t say enough about our law enforcement in the county and here in Rugby. We have a very good working relationship with law enforcement and the states attorney. It really is a collaborative effort.”

And if more families became licensed foster care providers, the collaboration would be complete.

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