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Need for foster parents still rising in Grand Forks County

The number of children needing foster care has spiked in Grand Forks County, and although there’s been a recent increase in foster parenting interest, the need for homes is still at its highest in years.

There are more than 200 children in the foster care system, said Wayne Piche, county Social Services’ family services supervisor. It’s the highest number of children in the system in at least 21 years.

The number of foster homes available has remained steady, but the number of children needing foster care has gone way up, Piche said.

“Almost exclusively the increase is being caused by some level of drugs or alcohol,” he said. Particularly, there’s been “a huge increase” in abusing prescription drugs, he said.

The use of any drugs or alcohol can leave parents incapable of caring for their children, he said. “They may be good parents or they may be able to take care of their children, but not if they’re using those chemicals.”

Many of the calls Social Services receives about abused or neglected children come from police, sometimes after someone from the public calls the police, he said.

Lt. Dwight Love, of the Grand Forks Police Department, agreed that drugs and alcohol are usually involved in calls where a child is in danger in his or her own home.

Last resort

When Social Services receives a call about a child in need, they’ll assess the home and only remove the child right away if there’s an “immediate risk,” which means, for example, if the child is being directly abused, or if both parents are being arrested and there aren’t any family members to care for the child, Piche said.

“Nothing’s more important than the safety of the children,” Love said.

If there’s no immediate risk, Social Services will continue to assess the home for cleanliness, safety and attention to the child’s needs.

Services such as counseling or financial assistance programs are usually offered to the family, Piche said.

“Foster care placement or out-of-home placement is the last resort we look at,” he said. If foster care is deemed the best option for a child, Social Services will ask the Grand Forks County Court for custody of the child for foster placement.

Foster parents

There were only seven open spots with the county’s 40 or foster families as of Thursday, he said.

And those seven spots may have restrictions, based on foster parents’ preferences. For example, a family with two daughters may only want to take a foster daughter, he said.

Kraig Bittner, a foster father in Grand Forks, said he and his wife requested to only have foster children younger than their 4-year-old biological daughter, because they weren’t ready to raise a teenager yet.

Social Services adheres to families’ requests about foster children, Piche said, because the system doesn’t want to create instability in a family by placing a foster child.

But foster parents’ needs for those restrictions prove an even greater need for foster homes.

Because of the increased need for foster care, Social Services is looking at other options with state resources, such as possibly providing a stipend for foster parents. Nothing has been decided on that yet, though, he said.

The system already reimburses foster parents for many of the expenses that come with foster children.

Bittner’s wife, Leah Boock, said the resources her family receives from Social Services make it possible for her and Bittner to care for their 1-year-old and 6-month-old foster sons.

Anyone can help

Piche emphasized that anyone interested in foster parenting can inquire with Social Services.

“You don’t have to be what’s thought of as a traditional family,” he said. Single people and unmarried couples can become foster parents, he said.

Piche added that if someone doesn’t want to commit to having a foster child full-time, there are other ways to help, such as being on-call to take a child for one weekend each month.

How to help: If you’re interested in foster parenting in Grand Forks County or the surrounding counties, call the Northeast Human Service Center in Grand Forks at (701) 795-3000.

Charly Haley
Charly Haley covers city government for the Grand Forks Herald. As night reporter, she also has many general assignments. Before working at the Herald, she was a reporter at the Jamestown Sun and interned at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, Detroit Lakes Newspapers and the St. Cloud Times. Haley is a graduate of Minnesota State University Moorhead, and her hometown is Sartell, Minn.
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