ONTARIO – It is five o’clock on Friday afternoon and Lou Schneider is on the phone trying to find help.
As Schneider, an area foster care coordinator for the Oregon Department of Human Services, works the phones, she finds herself in a familiar position: searching to obtain a suitable parent to embrace a foster child.
“The homes are full,” Schneider said.
Locally, state official face a lingering shortage of certified foster parents and the problem is only growing, especially with younger children.
“Our greatest need is for people who can take one of the little ones – babies and toddlers,” she said.
Yet the need does not end with younger children.
“We need foster parents to take care of kids of all ages,” Schneider said.
Schneider said 40 foster homes now operate in Malheur County.
“We need at least 70. If we had even 20 additional, we’d be in a much better spot,” Schneider said.
Schneider said foster parents can be hard to recruit.
“Our kids are really challenging and it is hard to find people to take in behavioral challenged children,” Schneider said.
Another factor, Schneider said, makes some to become foster parents.
“People would feel it would be too difficult to return the kids back to their parents,” Schneider said.
Schneider said the reason for placing children in foster care vary.
“People are not able to parent their kids for a lot of reasons. There is no one thing,” Schneider said.
Drug use and poverty, she said, account in part for the number of foster kids locally.
Although the commitment a foster parent must make is a big one, Schneider said it is worth it.
“This is a great way to give back. They (foster children) need to be with a family providing them that stability and nurturing and giving them a positive experience,” Schneider said.
Vale foster parent Susan Gregory agreed.
“When you see that smile on their face, that is rewarding,” Gregory said.
Gregory is now a foster parent to two children, aged 9 and 3. Gregory admitted the job of a foster parent is a major obligation requiring sympathy and patience.
“You need to understand where they came from and their instability and the trauma they have been through,” Gregory said.
Gregory, who works for the Malheur County Juvenile Department, said the payoff often arrives in small doses.
“I think it is when the kids are smiling and having fun and knowing that you helped bring some normalcy and happiness to their lives,” Gregory said.
Schneider said foster parents, once they are certified through the state, receive a monthly stipend.
“It varies and is based on the age of the child,” Schneider said.
For example, a foster parent of a child under 5 will receive $575 a month. Parents of children aged 6 to 12 receive $655 a month.
The money is to help parents for costs such as clothing and food.
Schneider said those interested in becoming foster parents can learn the requirements by calling the state at 541-889-9194 to talk to a foster parent certifier.
Gregory said being a foster parent is a good decision.
“I just think it is an important thing to do. In my line of work I know that relationships are the most important thing and for these kids to realize there is positive out there,” Gregory said.