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Foster families in high demand

Among a child’s greatest fears: cooties, the dark and cue ominous music foster care. The prospect of being plucked from one’s home, ripped from the clutches of parents and siblings and dumped in a stranger’s care (thanks, Disney imagery) is enough to give any kid nightmares. As kids mature into adults, however, they come to see foster care for what it truly is: a tremendous service to the community.

According to the Utah Foster Care Foundation (UFCF), there are more than 2,600 children in Utah’s foster-care system at any given time. These children have been removed from their homes because of abuse, neglect or life-threatening conditions. "Most of the families we encounter are struggling with a combination of things for example, domestic violence in addition to substance abuse issues," says Wendy Bunnell, area representative for the Western Region of UFCF.

If a judge deems that a child’s basic needs aren’t being met, he or she must be immediately placed in foster care, preferably within the same region as the child’s home. The trauma of being put into foster care is intensified if the child has to be relocated to a different part of the state, losing connections to friends, teachers and others with whom they have established bonds, Bunnell explains.

There are over 40 children in foster care from Summit and Wasatch counties, but only two of those children have been able to stay in the region because there are not enough licensed foster-care providers available in this area. There is a huge need for foster families, especially ethnic families that can help maintain children’s cultural identities and families that are willing to care for sibling groups and children older than 10, says Bunnell.

Kamas resident Debbie Sullivan has been a foster parent for about two years. She has fostered 12 to 13 children between the ages of six months and 17 years and is currently in the process of adopting one of them. "You grow to love the children, whether they’re your own or not," she says. "They become part of your family."

Although different children have presented different challenges, Sullivan says that there are lots of resources for foster parents and help is never more than a phone call away. "There’s always someone right there for you," she says.

The process for prospective foster-care providers involves comprehensive background checks and a series of training classes. The classes are free and cover topics such as the effects of abuse and neglect, coping with separation and grief, and adoption issues. Once an adult becomes a licensed provider, matches are made based on location and the foster parent’s preferences.

Foster parents are reimbursed by the state based on the age and level of care provided for a child. The average period of care is nine to 12 months, though it varies depending on the child’s circumstances. Although the ultimate goal is to reunite foster children with their birth parents, this isn’t always an option. Birth parents have eight to 14 months to secure their custody rights, after which point a judge deems whether the child can return home or is eligible for adoption.

Hard times in the economic sphere have only made things worse for kids in unstable circumstances. Domestic violence rates are up and foster-care providers are down. More kids than ever are in desperate need of stable homes that provide a necessary respite while their parents get their act together.

Sullivan encourages people to look past any stigmas associated with foster care for the most part, she says, these are normal kids that just need a loving and supportive home. "I feel good that I’m able to give the children something that they’ve never had before even it it’s just something simple, like normalcy, attention or a sense of security," she says.

For more information, visit http://www.utahfostercare.org . Those interested in becoming foster-care providers may contact Wendy Bunnell at (801) 373-3006.


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