Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Almeda Co. has experienced 76% decrease in licensed foster homes

County aims to increase foster homes
Metinko, Chris. Media News, May 28, 2007.

Joyce Ryder had been through it all before.

As an emergency foster parent, she knew the drill — help take care of the 4-month-old girl for a few days until she could be placed in a more permanent setting.

That knowledge never made the drill any easier on Ryder.

"Every time they leave, it's like a death in the family," said Ryder, who has welcomed more than 40 foster kids into her Livermore home at different times. "It never gets easy."

So she thought it would be the same way with little Chelsea when she got the call one day in July 2003. Chelsea was developmentally disabled and suffered shaken-baby syndrome.

However, as Chelsea's medical needs grew, Alameda County Social Services Agency and Ryder decided it might be best for her to stay with Ryder, to give some stability.

By the end of the summer, the emergency care that was supposed to put Ryder and Chelsea together for a couple of days is expected to end up in official adoption.

"She's such a sweet child," said Ryder, who raised three biological children. "Her needs are so great. She needs someone around her who cares."

Ryder's story is not necessarily unique, but does get extra attention this month, as May is Foster Care Month. According to a study from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, about 513,000 American youth are in foster care.

In the East Bay, Contra Costa County has nearly 400 licensed foster families and about 1,600 foster kids in the county.

In Alameda County, there now are more than 1,200 children and youths in the county foster care system awaiting a permanent home. In fact, Alameda County has experienced a 76 percent decrease in county licensed foster homes over the last 12 years, dropping from 1,000 in 1995 to about 250 now. The county is on a campaign to significantly increase that number and has added some 30 new county-licensed foster homes recently.

Part of that problem behind the decrease in county-licensed foster homes, as cited by current foster parents, is low foster care compensation rates. In California, foster care rates have remained stagnant for over six years.

"Our first obligation to children who enter the foster care system is to ensure that if they cannot return home safely to their families that we do everything possible to provide them with a suitable loving family environment," said Chet Hewitt, director of Alameda County Social Services Agency. "A thoughtful response to these realities suggests that we should readily pay a premium — in compensation and supportive services — to individuals and families who step forward to provide this invaluable public service."

Ryder says she has paid out thousands of dollars in her own money over the years to help support her foster children.

"It can get expensive,"
she said.

However, Ryder admits that money is greatly outweighed by the experience.

"This was something I always wanted to do once my kids grew up and got older," Ryder said. "It's a highly rewarding experience."

Ryder then relates a story about Chelsea starting special education preschool this year at the same school Ryder's granddaughter attends.

"They ask (her grandchild) if Chelsea's her sister," said Ryder, who at 57 didn't expect to be a mom again. "She doesn't know what to say," Ryder laughs.

"You have to want to do it," she adds, "but if you want to, it's a very rewarding."

If you are interested in finding out more about becoming an foster or adoptive parent, contact (510) 259-3575 or http://www.pathwaytohome.org in Alameda County.

In Contra Costa County, call toll free (866) 313-7788 or (925) 335-7089 or visit http://www.ehsd.org.


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