When his family stepped up to offer a home for a troubled juvenile, Medford resident Paul Hamlett had no idea how few foster families sign on for the task.
In fact, his home is currently the only one on the roster in Medford and one of just three in Southern Oregon.
The lone foster parent in Medford certified to provide foster placement for the Oregon Youth Authority, Hamlett said testimony from a family member who had received the same kind of help nudged him to open his home.
“It was just by happenstance that we had met one of the probation officers, and she suggested that we should look into fostering. At just about that same time, someone in our family, who had been in a bad place as a youth and been through foster care, told us how his life changed and suggested we open our home,” Hamlett said.
“We were surprised to hear that we would be the only foster family in the Medford area.”
With at least 100 young people statewide in need of foster placement — youth who have completed enough of their program to be eligible for foster care or similar placement for eventual return to society — the lack of homes is discouraging, said Sheila Kelly, state foster home certifier for OYA.
Kelly visited the Rogue Valley last week to discuss the urgent need to recruit foster families.
OYA’s foster care program is only for youth in OYA custody — teenagers who are working their way toward returning home and youth age 18 to 24 who need help learning independent-living skills.
Kelly said the agency tries to place youth in foster homes near their support system when beneficial.
With just one foster home for juveniles in Jackson County, local youth who are good candidates for foster care are forced to live elsewhere in Oregon. An added hurdle in finding foster homes is that so many youth come with the stigma of past convictions.
“It can be harder," Kelly said. "I feel like the age piece is a pretty big thing. And then also because we don’t do adoptions — a lot of times people want to actually adopt younger kids. These are definitely kids who need additional support to finish school or go to college or trade school. They’re kids who have been in trouble.”
Kelly said the agency is “intentional” when placing youths to ensure foster matches are good for both the foster child and the family.
“We’re not going to throw any kids into any home," she added.
Hamlett, an empty-nester who raised four of his own children, said foster parenting for a high-school-age foster child had been a positive experience.
“We were in a position where we had no kids at home and had some empty bedrooms. We raised four children. There was a need, and we were able to help out,” he said.
“I go to the juvenile department in Medford, here, once a month, and just in talking with these young people and hearing their stories, you can see that they are kids who have a good heart who didn’t have an environment in which they could implement the changes that they wanted and that they knew they needed to make. I knew that doing this would provide an environment someone needed to be able to change.”
Six months in, Hamlett said the commitment of fostering has been positive.
“We’ve just sort of ... received him into our family and, at this point, we’re committed to his success to the point that even when his so-called ‘time is up,’ we want to keep him a bit longer to make sure he’s able to adjust,” said Hamlett.
“Our first goal was to have him here until he graduated, but then we realized he might need more time to respond to handling a job and handling money and getting his own place. He has a home here for another year or so if he needs,” Hamlett said. “These kids, I think, are all just like any other kids. They just need someone to give them a chance and show them the way.”
— Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at email@example.com.