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Foster family

A couple of years ago, Kim and Tyson Moore started to get the feeling it was time to bring more children into their family. They had talked about adoption even before their two sons were born, and Tyson’s family had fostered children with special needs when he was a teenager.

So it only seemed right to at least educate themselves about foster care and adoption. However, after going through the training offered by the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services and becoming duly licensed foster parents, the Missoula couple decided it would be best to wait until their young children were a little bit older.

“But then the state called and told us about a baby who had special needs. He was still at the hospital, in the NICU,” Kim Moore told the Missoulian’s editorial board. “We just felt like it was something we needed to do – so we did.”

With that, the Moores opened their home to one of the hundreds of children in need of foster care in Montana.

It’s a number that, sadly, has been on the rise. According to the Child and Family Services Division of the DPHHS, more than 1,500 children were removed from their homes and entered into the state foster care system during 2013. That’s a 27 percent increase over the year before, and significantly higher than the 978 children who entered foster care in Montana in 2011.

Unfortunately, Montana is far from the only state experiencing a dramatic increase in reports of child abuse and neglect. According to Sarah Corbally, Child and Family Services Division Administrator, most states have seen increases of at least 20 percent in the last year.

If only the number of licensed foster families had increased apace. At last count – and counting kinship placements and specialized foster families – the total number of licensed foster homes in Montana was 959.

“We are always happy to have more foster families,” Corbally said.

***

When a report of child abuse or neglect is investigated and results in the removal of child from his or her home, the state works first to find an appropriate kinship placement – that is, a family member, or someone the child had a strong relationship with before the authorities got involved. The state CFS currently counts 290 licensed kinship care homes. It has an additional 44 specialized foster families – those who can provide care and treatment for children with specialized needs.

The remaining 625 – the vast majority – are licensed foster homes.

Of course, DPHHS isn’t the only route to foster care or adoption. Youth Homes offers foster care and adoption services through its Dan Fox Family Care Program. The Partnership for Children likewise provides support for foster and adoptive families. And many places of worship – Missoula Alliance Church, for one local example – provide foster care ministries as well. Any one of these will be happy to steer a prospective foster family to the organization that best fits their unique needs.

The important thing is to find a way to reach out.

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Throughout the month, the Missoulian has been publishing guest columns from regional experts on some of the many facets of child abuse prevention. Child abuse and neglect is not a problem confined to one month, certainly, but it’s as good a time as any to learn more, and do more, to help the children in our community who need it most.

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By far the best way to help is to work to prevent child abuse and neglect from occurring in the first place, and to that end, The Parenting Place in Missoula has a 30-year history of doing just that. The community-based nonprofit helps at-risk families by collaborating with various social service agencies, providing a family support system and offering classes to strengthen parenting skills.

Teresa Nygaard, director of the Parenting Place for the past dozen years, is also co-director of the state chapter of Prevent Child Abuse America. She and a colleague in Billings got the chapter going a handful of years ago, and Nygaard continues to guide it along with Stacy Dreessen, executive director at The Family Tree Center in Billings. This year, they are focused on building a board of directors.

“The chapter is moving forward and gaining momentum at this point,” Nygaard reports. “We hope to have funding in place to hire a director this year.”

While the chapter does not itself provide direct services to foster children and families, it will “provide technical assistance, capacity building, outreach and public awareness and possibly some advocacy at state level for child abuse prevention,” Nygaard says. “It will be a resource for family-serving organizations across the state.”

Interested in supporting those who provide this support? Consider lending some volunteer time and attention to the Parenting Place, for starters. Monetary donations are welcome, too.

***

Indeed, there are myriad ways, outside of foster care, to help provide a safe, stable home for children who have experienced abuse or neglect. For one, you might consider volunteering for Court Appointed Special Advocates of Missoula.

In a nutshell, CASA volunteers make sure children’s interests are represented in court. These children have usually experienced serious abuse or neglect at the hands of those who were supposed to be taking care of them, as well as removal from their homes. They may not only be living with a new family, in a new house, they may also have had to change schools. And they may have met a lot of new adults who have different roles in overseeing their well-being.

They could use a caring, stable figure in their lives, and that’s just what CASA volunteers provide.

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Cori Stern of Missoula has been a CASA volunteer for almost two years, and has handled four cases in that time. Two of them were dismissed fairly quickly. Stern stays in regular weekly contact with the two adolescents involved in her remaining two cases.

With a background in adolescent substance abuse counseling, as well as long experience working with children, Stern brings a lot of applicable skills to her role. But CASA volunteers are not required to have legal or social service experience. They are required to complete an application and interview process, which includes a background check. Once accepted, they must complete 30 hours of training before being assigned their first case.

The time commitment can be anywhere from 5 hours to 20 hours per month. In exchange, Stern says, volunteers receive the rich reward of knowing they’ve truly made a difference in a child’s future.

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Last week, Stern was recognized as CASA Volunteer of the Year by the Montana DPHHS. Hers was one of two awards given by the department to a Missoulian.

The other went to Kim and Tyson Moore, who were named Montana Foster Parents of the Year.

After taking their first foster son home from the hospital in December 2012, the Moores stayed busy with all the challenges of caring for three boys under the age of 6, the youngest of which has special health concerns. About a year into this new life, they were told about a little girl who needed a temporary home, immediately. She also has some special needs. Without any other options, she was headed for a children’s shelter.

But instead, the Moores welcomed her into their family, too.

These days, Kim and Tyson Moore are in the process of adopting their youngest son. They marvel at the blossoming relationship between their children, biological and foster. They take pride whenever one of their kids achieves a new developmental milestones. And they do their best to help their foster children’s’ birth families as well.

“We try to have open communication; that’s rewarding too,” Kim Moore says. “To maybe show how to handle parenthood a little better, because it’s a struggle for everyone.”

Yes, parenthood can be a struggle – even for Montana’s Foster Parents of the Year. But you don’t have to be Foster Parents of the Year – or CASA Volunteer of the Year – to make a difference.

Each time the Moores welcomed new children into their family, they told their biological children, “We’re going to love them and take care of them as long as they need us to.”

Ultimately, that’s really all anyone has to do.

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