Foster care is essential and needs support

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Hundreds of foster and adoptive kids in Iowa each year find support and grow up to become college students, business owners and loving parents themselves. But their journey is often very difficult — which is why our communities and state have a system in place to help them succeed.

The goal for many children in foster care is to safely reunite with their birth families. Most of the children, almost three-quarters, are reunited with birthparents or adopted by relatives.

More than 99 percent of these foster children are living safely with foster and adoptive families, who in turn are providing the extra support and special services needed while in care.

Why do these children need special support and services, in the care of trained and licensed foster and adoptive parents? Almost all children referred into foster care have special needs, are sibling groups, are ethnically diverse and/or are teenagers. That’s why the focus for recruiting, training, home studies and supporting the families who are willing to open their homes and hearts to these children is taken so seriously.

Many who express interest in becoming foster or adoptive parents do not complete the nine-month process of orientation, training and licensing — because the types of children coming into care, the requirements to successfully support these children, and their own family’s circumstances are not a good fit.

But for those who do, it is essential to have foster parents in every area of the state to serve foster children who need to be close to their school, family and friends. All children need a loving environment to grow successfully. Foster children can be traumatized and act out or present special challenges, so there are a variety of services available to support the foster family, including mentoring and therapy — particularly aimed at helping the child and their birth family in distress come back together and thrive.

In Iowa, both the number of children needing foster care, and the number of children waiting for adoption, has been reduced over the past 10 years. Those improvements have occurred because of the increased support for children safely living at home. Similarly, important gains in foster and adoptive parent recruitment, training and support have also happened during this last decade — to help care for those children who cannot stay safely at home.

The Department of Human Services has recently announced the selection of a consultant to independently analyze the present foster care system and make recommendations to improve it. We applaud that work.

We cannot lose sight of the continuing need to find and support foster and adoptive parents — for those children who need them every day. Because we care about all our children — it is imperative that all the rural and urban communities across the state support this important work and ensure that kids stay safe in every family.

Please join me in thanking the dedicated foster and adoptive families who are already caring for children in Iowa. It also will take each us to encourage more strong families to foster and adopt.

• Anne Gruenewald is president and CEO of Four Oaks, a child welfare and behavioral health agency.

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