PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Across Oregon, more foster parents are needed to ensure at-risk children have safe places to stay. In the Portland area alone, there’s a need for hundreds of foster beds, according to Boys & Girls Aid, a Portland-based nonprofit.
Boys & Girls Aid has worked for more than a century to help children in the Portland area find safe places to stay. It’s one of several nonprofits in Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties working to recruit foster families and place foster children in homes.
It can currently provide service for 33 children, but President and CEO Suzan Huntington said that’s difficult to do when they need about 15 more families to provide full-time foster care.
“If anyone has been thinking about fostering, this is the time,” she said. “We need every heart and every home to help us meet the needs of these kids.”
The situation in the Portland metro area is a small part of the need the entire state is facing. According to the Oregon Department of Human Services, there were more than 5,000 Oregon children in foster care in July 2022.
ODHS said it currently does not have a shortage of foster parents, but said it needs to have more than enough of what it calls resource families – the term it prefers over foster families.
“When we have more than enough resource families, we can find the best match to support every child and family touched by foster care,” Jake Sunderland, press secretary for ODHS, said.
ODHS’s Child Welfare Division believes that foster care should always be the last possible and temporary option for a child and family. The department prefers to place a child in a relative’s or close family friend’s care first before resorting to foster care.
If a relative or family friend isn’t available to house a child, then a general resource family is used to support them.
Boys & Girls Aid can only tackle a small part of the problem, but Huntington said they’ll do what they can.
The nonprofit is hosting information sessions in September to help inform people on what being a foster parent entails.
Huntington said it’s not an easy job. In the past, she said foster parents have told her it’s the hardest job they’ve ever ever loved.
Foster parents will need to understand how to care for children who may have experienced trauma. That’s why Boys & Girls Aid requires its foster parents to undergo training before they can welcome children into their homes. The non-profit also offers 24-hour support to answer questions, provide guidance and assist with emergencies.
Huntington said anyone can be a foster parent as long as they’re at least 21 years old, can pass a background check and have a separate bedroom in their home for a foster child. In the past they’ve had two-parent foster homes and single-parent homes. People can continue to work while they’re foster parents.
Anyone who is LGBTQ+ is also invited to be a foster parent and Huntington said she’d like to see an ethnically diverse pool of parents.
“It really runs the gamut. It really is about ‘Do you have room in your home and your heart to care for a child who really needs you right now?’” she said.
She reminds people that there is a stipend for anyone who becomes a foster parent. They can make anywhere from $1,600 to $3,500 per month as a foster parent through Boys & Girls Aid, depending on what program they’re in. The stipend is tax-free and is meant to support the cost of fostering a child.
“It’s important for us just to be honest about the fact that there is compensation. No one’s getting rich. It is to help cover added expenses,” Huntington explained.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, ODHS reported there were fewer children living in foster care and state officials believe that could be because kids were not being seen by mandatory abuse and neglect reporters while schools were shut down. Just because the number of children needed foster care has decreased, Huntington said it hasn’t gone away.
With school back in session soon, she fears there could be an increase in children who need help and she wants her non-profit to be prepared.
“Our foster parents say, ‘I don’t know that this child understands my impact today in their life, but I know later, they’re going to look back at this time and they’re going to know that they were loved and that they were cared for at a time when it was tremendously uncertain for them,’” she said.
Anyone interested in becoming a foster parent for Boys & Girls Aid can participate in the online information sessions that are taking place Tuesday, Sept. 13 at 12 p.m. and Wednesday, Sept 28 at 5 p.m.