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Column: Foster parents can make all the difference

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It seems as though every day the news is inundated with stories of horrific experiences that children face at the very hands of those entrusted to love, protect and care for them.

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Stories of babies being shaken and children being beaten or molested can desensitize us after a while. This constant bombardment by the media of child abuse happening in other communities can lull a person into the false sense of belief that child abuse is an issue in big cities, but not in Red Wing.

Unfortunately, the reality is that child abuse can and does impact people in every town, city, race, culture and socioeconomic status in the country. Red Wing is not an exception.

In 2010, 148 children received foster care services in Goodhue County. Children may be placed in foster care when their own parents are unable to care for them due to child neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, substance abuse or mental health concerns. Foster parents provide love, stability and a place to stay until children can be safely reunited with their families.

Caring for children in need is not a new concept. In fact, there are references in the Bible to "caring for the fatherless" (Deuteronomy 10:18 NIV).

In the United States, the methods used to care for children in need have varied over the years. In the 1700s-1800s, abandoned and orphaned children were sent to live in alms houses, which were publicly funded shelters. From there, relatives or strangers could "claim" the children, usually for use as household servants.

Public funds were paid to these "foster parents" but there was no check on whether or not these children were being adequately cared for.

In the late 1800s, the child protection agencies were developed. By the 1900s, the use of home-based services for families was implemented, which began a gradual decline in the use of orphan asylums.

Scrolling forward to the 1980s, the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act targeted money for preventative services and programs that reunited foster children with their families. The idea was that children were better off living with parents whenever possible.

In 1997, another shift happened. The Adoption and Safe Families Act was enacted, which requires social workers to make all reasonable efforts to reunite parents and children -- but to also develop "permanency plans," including adoption after that.

In recent years, philosophies in foster care have again shifted. More and more children are being placed with aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents for foster care. In fact, Minnesota ranks as one of the top states for grandparents raising their grandchildren.

Each May, National Foster Care Month provides an opportunity to shine a light on the experiences of children in the foster care system and to acknowledge the foster parents and relative foster parents that dedicate themselves to helping children in foster care.

Goodhue County Health and Human Services appreciates the hard work and sacrifices that foster families make in order to care for children in placement. HHS is always accepting applications for individuals and families interested in becoming licensed for foster care.

By state law, child foster homes must be licensed according to the standards set forth by the Minnesota Department of Human Services. The licensing process takes about three to four months. To apply, a person must be 21 years of age and pass a criminal background study.

Foster parents may be single or married, rent or own their own home and be employed full time or part time. There is a monthly stipend to help cover the foster child's expenses.

Children in foster care are also eligible for medical assistance, WIC and free school lunches. Individuals and families who apply to become foster parents are given training and support before, during and after they are licensed. Foster parents are required to have 12 hours of training every year.

If you are considering becoming a foster parent or want more information, call Goodhue County Health and Human Services at 651-385-3232 or visit www.co.goodhue.mn.us.

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