Foster families sorely needed in Panhandle

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SANDPOINT — There is a pressing need for foster and adoptive parents in Bonner and Boundary counties, according the Idaho Child Welfare Research & Training Center.

Julie Gardner, a recruitment coordinator for ICWRTC in Coeur d’Alene, said it is challenging to have enough foster homes in less-populous areas with geographical distances.

“We are reaching out to community members to ask for their help in keeping foster children in their home communities,” said Gardner.

The community is invited to learn more at an upcoming informational meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 12 at the Idaho Department of Health & Welfare office in Ponderay, located at 207 Larkspur Drive. It starts at 6 p.m.

If a foster home is not available, the Idaho Department of Health & Welfare staff turn to Kinderhaven in Sandpoint for emergency care — provided there is available space.

“More foster families in this area are definitely needed,” said Phyllis Horvath, executive director of Kinderhaven. “While we care for as many children as we can at any one time, there are still more children needing families than we can welcome into our Kinderhaven home.”

Staff seek out foster homes locally, but if one can’t be found the children end up being placed outside of their home community, which hampers connections with support systems such as schoolteachers, friends and families.

The absence of foster families exacerbates the department’s already tough job of providing services for abused and neglected children, said Bonner County Magistrate Court Judge Debra Heise, who presides over child-protection cases.

“It also increases the stress for children who are already under enormous stress,” said Heise.

Health & Welfare is required to keep children in the school they’re enrolled in if at all possible. If a child attends school in Sandpoint, but is fostered in Bonners Ferry or Priest River, the child has to be bused back and forth.

“Lack of placement options for teenage boys is a huge problem, and placement of three or more siblings is difficult as well,” said Heise.

Kinderhaven is a valuable resource, particularly for short-term placements. However, long-term placements are sorely needed and difficult to find, Heise added.

One Church One Child of Idaho has teamed up with Health & Welfare, communities of faith and groups such as ICWRTC and Kinderhaven to improve outcomes for foster children in rural areas.

“We are currently partnering with churches in Sandpoint to provide supports for foster children and families, as well as asking families who have the heart to foster to learn more about becoming a foster family,” said Stephanie Wood, a One Church One Child VISTA coordinator.

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