Other Views: Respite care offers hope for foster system

It almost goes without saying that Oregon’s foster care system is troubled.

But don’t take our word for it: Take a look at the Oregon secretary of state’s recent audit of the Department of Human Services and foster care in Oregon.

If you don’t recall the details, let us refresh your memory by quoting part of the audit’s conclusion:

“Oregon’s most vulnerable children are being placed into a foster care system that has serious problems. Child welfare workers are burning out and consistently leaving the system in high numbers. The supply of suitable foster homes and residential facilities is dwindling, resulting in some children spending days and weeks in hotels. Foster parents are struggling with limited training, support and resources. Agency management’s response to these problems has been slow, indecisive and inadequate.”

We can’t fix all of that in one stroke.

But important progress to repair the state’s foster care system can come in seemingly small ways.

In that light, we were delighted to read of a new program designed to give a bit of respite to those people who have opened their homes to foster children.

One of the issues we have in recruiting sufficient numbers of foster homes — an essential component of the state’s child-welfare system — is the sheer commitment that it takes to be a good foster parent. The best foster parents, of course, have an inkling of the responsibilities that they’ve taken on, but those duties still can be overwhelming.

That’s where a new program, Planned and Crisis Respite Care, comes in handy. The program is run by Morrison Child & Family Services, based in Portland, which for the last year has been developing a respite program in Linn, Benton and Lincoln counties.

The program’s title pretty well summarizes its goals: The program aims to give parents or foster parents who have children in therapy due to behavioral issues some time to decompress.

Shaun Matthias said Morrison Family Services hopes to develop 20 or more host families in the three-county area. So far, there are about 10, some of whom are completing training.

“We’d like to get as many as we can because there is definitely a great need,” Matthias told the Democrat-Herald’s Alex Paul.

That’s for sure: In the Portland area, there can be between 40 and 60 requests for respite care every week. You can be sure that there’s plenty of need for this service throughout the mid-valley as well.

For his story, Paul visited one of the mid-valley families that is part of the program: Margo and Deron Kosoff, who live north of Corvallis, have wanted to be foster parents for years, but their busy work and life schedules made that a tough fit. The respite program is ideal for them: On weekends, the Kosoffs and their 7-year-old son make room for children ages 3 to 10. The foster children and their parents get some needed time away from each other — think of it as an escape valve for everyone involved.

Respite families are reimbursed for all training expenses and receive a stipend of $50 per night during the week or $90 per night on weekends.

If this seems like a small thing, think again. One of the reasons why people can be reluctant to sign on as foster parents is because of its 24/7 nature. Families might be more willing to assume foster responsibilities if they knew they could get relief from those duties for a day or two.

And a family that gets some experience with the foster care system through the respite program might be considerably more willing to become full-time caregivers to foster children.

Anything that helps increase the number of qualified foster families in Oregon is a good thing — and an important step toward repairing Oregon’s broken system. There’s nothing small about that.

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