COLUMN: Local children heading to foster care need help

By Les Zaitz

The Enterprise

The plea for help five days before Christmas couldn’t be ignored.

Two Ontario girls removed from their homes needed foster care – parents willing to take needy children into their home. The sisters, 13 and 8, wanted to be in a home with trees and presents on Christmas.

The email alerting us to their circumstance came from Christine Phillips, child welfare program manager in the Ontario district office of the state Department of Human Services.

“These girls do not have a foster placement and they do not know where they will be for Christmas,” Phillips wrote. “This just breaks my heart!”

For privacy reasons, Phillips couldn’t share many details. Nonetheless we were about to crank up our social media apparatus to help find a home for the girls when Phillips got back in touch. Christmas looked brighter for the girls.

“It appears a placement has been found,” she said in an update.

I went into the long Christmas weekend thinking about those two girls, and thankful to the unnamed family which was going to welcome the children. That’s especially true given the challenges facing that family. The older girl, Mayra, had special needs that would require some professional medical help. Her younger sister helps care for her.

But the day after Christmas, Phillips had distressing news. The arrangement hadn’t come together and the state was scouring the county to find foster parents. Could we help?

You’d have to be a stone-hearted Grinch to say no, so we turned to the community and asked: Can you help?

Our Facebook posting lit up with people sharing concern and hope. Unhappy as their circumstances likely were, Mayra and Cindy had to feel enveloped by love. That post was seen by more than 10,000 people. More than 250 of you shared it, helping spread the word and putting out the call.

Within a day, another family stepped forward to consider helping.

That wasn’t the only good news.

“This article also netted a placement for two additional children that were recently placed in a Baker City foster home as we did not have a home for them,” Phillips said. “Now they will be able to return to their home community of Nyssa and in the new year will be able to attend their own school.”

Sadly, the second family stepping forward for Mayra and Cindy didn’t work out either, for reasons the state can’t share.

Just before the New Year’s weekend, the state did found a home for Mayra, though in another county. Cindy got new foster parents here in Malheur County.

So as the new year begins, let’s all hope Mayra and Cindy continue to get the love and support they need for lives far too challenged for girls so young. Phillips and her team obviously worked without stop to find them homes, and the Malheur County community showed its generosity by responding so quickly.

But the other truism of the new year is that Malheur County still has far too many children in foster care. And Phillips and her team need even more foster parents. Training begins next week, and if you’re curious about how you could help, attend the class. Call 541-889-9194 to get details.

There’s no commitment requiring attendees to go on to foster parenting. But it’s a start, and it could lead to giving Phillips one more option to care for children in desperate need.

Les Zaitz is the publisher of the Malheur Enterprise, and can be contacted at [email protected].