With May being National Foster Care Month, the Sullivan County Democrat sat down with Sullivan County Director of Services Danielle Mann, who oversees the County’s foster care efforts, as well as adoption, preventive services, child protective services, adult protective services and the child advocacy center.
SULLIVAN COUNTY –– In Sullivan County, children in foster care are in the custody of Division of Health and Human Services Commissioner John Liddle. Therefore the Division is tasked with making sure their needs are met.
While the first step is to see if there are relatives or kin able to take them in, if that isn’t possible, the County turns to foster care, which Sullivan County Director of Services Danielle Mann says has many levels.
The first level is local foster homes, where the County handles the home study, background checks and training to certify someone as a foster parent.
The next level is a therapeutic foster home which must be certified through an agency the County contracts with such as Children's Home of Wyoming Conference, KidsPeace, Abbott House and Berkshire Farm. To be a therapeutic home, the family must be willing and able to take on a child with higher needs as well as willing to complete additional training. They will also be provided an added layer of support through the foster care agency.
The next level up from that is a group home, which is staffed 24/7 and sees the youth attend schools in that area.
Then there’s residential treatment centers (RTCs), which Mann says follows an old campus model, typically with a school nearby and all the services the youth need - medical, mental health, etc. - right on-site.
“That’s the highest level of care,” said Mann. “We don’t want that [RTCs and group homes]. It’s what we’re trying to reduce. Children do better in regular homes with families rather than a congregate setting.”
Finding foster parents
A few years ago, the County realized they needed to build up the pool of foster homes in the area. Therefore they contracted with the Children’s Home to recruit potential foster parents, run and promote trainings, etc.
In July 2020, the County had 138 kids in foster care, the highest number in its history.
Mann, however, is happy to report that with the help of Children’s Home, they’ve doubled the number of foster homes in the area since that point.
“Getting that big pool of foster homes was really important because we're in a position now where we have homes that are trained, certified, open and ready,” said Mann, “and you want to have more homes than you need [so you can] appropriately match the child's needs with the right type of family.”
Today they have about 60 foster homes, and approximately 104 local kids in foster care.
“[Children’s Home] is always scouting and holding sessions online to just provide information about being a foster parent,” said Mann. “So that helps a lot for people that just have questions … give them some things to think about and [see] if it's something that they truly want to do.”
Children’s Home foster care training lasts about nine weeks, according to Mann, with their next one beginning on August 11 and running through October.
Currently there is still a large need for homes that are willing to take siblings and teens.
One area that Mann wants to further develop is kinship, which connects children in foster care with an adult they had a previous relationship with. And that person does not necessarily have to be a blood relative.
“I want people to understand what kinship is,” said Mann, “to have in the back of [their] mind that they might be a resource for someone they’re not thinking of right now.”
Through kinship, the County is able to offer an emergency certification.
There’s still a period of time where training would have to be completed, but kinship provides a quicker alternative and usually reduces the amount of times a child would have to move.
It’s okay to care
When asked about common misconceptions surrounding foster care, Mann said she sometimes hears that people are afraid to foster because they fear making a connection with a child and then that child has to return home.
“That’s okay,” said Mann. “That means they're a caring and compassionate person. And that's probably someone who we want to talk to about being a foster parent.”
If you’re interested in becoming a foster parent, you can call Michael Osepowicz, one of the County’s senior foster care caseworkers, at 845-513-2389 or the Children’s Home at 845-645-6544.
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