Our Voice: Need for more foster homes; consider taking in a child

This time of year often brings out the best in folks.

The holiday season typically inspires more people to give than at any other time. Food, toy and clothing drives are all around, and it’s wonderful to see the donations piling up at schools, churches and collection sites in the community.

So, in that spirit of generosity, we would like to encourage another gift — the decision to open your heart and home to a foster child.

There is a dire need in Washington for more licensed foster homes, and the downward slide will continue unless more people consider taking in these vulnerable children.

The Seattle Times reported that the state now has about 1,000 fewer licensed foster homes than it did in 2007, which is a 17 percent decline.

Carmen Bowser, the foster care program manager for Catholic Family & Child Service in Richland, said she didn’t have statistics readily available for the local region, but she knows the need for foster homes in the Tri-Cities is constant and is getting worse.

At the state level, the number of licensed foster care homes was 4,946 in October, which was down from 5,965 in 2007. State officials would like that number increased to around 6,000, according to the Seattle Times report.

Bowser said the agency tries to put children in need of foster care with relatives first. If that is not an option, then licensed homes in the area are the next best thing.

But there may be times when no foster care in the Mid-Columbia is available, she said. In that case, the children are sent to another city, and sometimes it can be across the Cascade Mountains.

“These are children with difficulties,” Bowser said, adding that being uprooted from their homes is traumatic enough. Being sent away from their hometown can add to their distress.

That’s why it is crucial to have enough foster care homes within the Tri-City area. According to the Catholic Family & Child Service website, anyone who wants to provide a safe and loving home to a foster child needs to be age 21 or older, married or single, have a steady income and the ability to provide a safe home environment.

“We will guide people through the process,” Bowser said. People just need to be willing to help.

The holidays are usually a great time to be a kid. But foster children who have been torn from their homes, for whatever reason, need some extra care during this season and throughout the year. If you’ve ever thought about being a foster parent, now would be a good time to go for it.