by Mike Knaak
Jennifer Thelen is looking for a few good families.
Thelen of St. Joseph is a social worker with Stearns County Human Services.
Although recruiting and licensing foster-care families is a year-round job, Thelen is trying to get the word out during May, Foster Care Appreciation Month, about the need for families to care for children.
Currently, 68 families provide foster care for about 160 children ranging from infants to age 17.
Foster parents are as diverse as the children they care for. Some are married; some are single; some are grandparents; some are parents with young children, adolescents or grown children; some hope to eventually adopt children. The characteristics foster parents have in common are love for children, an ability to commit to challenges and a desire to make a difference in the lives of children, Thelen said..
Not only does Stearns County need more foster homes, the location of the homes is important too, Thelen said.
Removing a child from a home is disruptive enough, but if a child moves to a foster home away from the neighborhood, friends and school, the situation is even more stressful.
Right now there are no foster homes in the St. Joseph area, so a child needing foster care would be placed outside the area.
Because children in foster care are sometimes adopted by the foster family, there’s a constant need for new foster homes.
In addition to getting the word out about the need for foster families, Thelen also licenses the homes.
Foster families have to pass background checks, interviews, a home study and a safety inspection before being approved. More than half of foster families are relatives of the child being placed.
Foster families are paid a stipend for food, clothing and transportation.
“It isn’t a job. People are doing this from their heart,” Thelen said. “They genuinely want to provide love and care for somebody. You’re doing that because you want to help other people.”
Foster care is needed when a child’s well-being is threatened by a deteriorating home situation.
A child’s parents may struggle with social, financial, legal or chemical-dependency issues and are no longer able to care for the child.
While the child is in foster care, social workers and the court work with parents to address the issues and reunite the family.
The ultimate goal is to move the child from foster care to a more permanent, stable situation. That may be family reunification or adoption.
Families interested in foster care should contact human services at 320-656-6000 and ask for the coverage licensing social worker. The county conducts a no-commitment orientation about every two months. The session lasts about two-and-a-half hours.
“There is a continued need and there always will be,” Thelen said.
“If we could get 10 more foster homes we would love that,” Thelen said.