MOORHEAD — Danny Demery has a biological mother, an adoptive mother and a foster mother, Danielle Anderson. Anderson is the only one Demery calls “mom.”
Demery, 22, has been in and out of Anderson’s north Moorhead home since he was a baby. Though he’s “termed out” of the foster system, he remains there under an agreement Anderson has with his parents.
“It’s the only home that I've ever had ... considering that a home is loving and caring,” he said.
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Anderson, 43, has three biological children. In addition to Demery, she fosters two teenage sisters so they can stay together, rather than be placed in separate homes.
The need for more licensed foster parents like Anderson is urgent, according to the Minnesota Department of Human Services.
The number of children in the state’s foster care system on an average day has increased by 14% over the last two years.
In 2016, about 8,850 children who couldn’t safely remain in their homes needed to be placed in family foster care or a group residential facility. In 2018, that number rose to 10,050 children.
Due to the increase, many county and tribal agencies have a shortage of family foster homes.
Rachel Osborne, therapeutic foster care coordinator for Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota, licenses and supports foster parents.
She said they receive referrals every day for kids in need of homes.
“We don't have the capacity to place all the children,” Osborne said.
Leading cause: parental drug abuse
Various circumstances prompt children to be placed out of the home, but three stand out.
Parental drug abuse is the most frequently identified primary reason, at 32%, followed by allegations of neglect at 23% and allegations of physical abuse at 10%, according to Minnesota DHS.
Removal of children for parental drug abuse rose from 17% of all new placements in 2013 to 32% in 2018, primarily due to opioid and methamphetamine addiction.
Osborne said it takes two to six months to become licensed in foster care. Potential families undergo a background study and home visit, and adults receive training in the areas of trauma response and CPR, to name a few.
There’s no one-size-fits-all mentality, Osborne said; she has licensed single and dual foster parents, some who rent and others who own their homes.
The agency works hard to see that the needs of the foster child and foster family are met.
For example, some families don’t want to take in a teenager because they have younger kids, and some don’t want to care for an infant or toddler because they feel they're past that stage in life.
The most important requirements are dedication and ability to provide a stable setting for that child.
“Their entire life can turn out completely different if they have the nurturing environment and the love of an adult that can help them,” Osborne said.
Anderson is a licensed therapeutic foster care provider for LSS of Minnesota, helping children deal with trauma from sexual abuse and domestic violence, chemical dependency and criminal histories.
She is reimbursed for food, clothing and other expenses.
As a fourth-generation foster care provider, the work is in her blood.
Sadly, Anderson’s husband died in a car crash when she was pregnant with their youngest and caring for toddler twins.
When the children got a little older, she didn’t hesitate to bring fosters into the mix.
Anderson's biological children, fraternal twins Peter and CoCo, 13, and daughter Codi, 11, are accustomed to having a full house.
Friends who’ve expressed concerns about what her biological children will get out of the experience are quickly reassured.
“They're going to get compassion, they're going to learn that not everybody is as fortunate as them and that we should be helping others,” Anderson said.
Daughter CoCo said Demery is like a brother to her.
"He's known me since I was a baby, so I have a really close relationship with him," she said.
Adoption an option
Demery's family history is a complicated one. He said because he is half-Native, tribal officials were involved at one point.
For most of his life, he longed to be "wanted" by his biological mother, but that didn't happen. His adoptive mother left him with Anderson and never came back for him.
"That was the hardest part, was trying to get over what two others had done to me," he said.
In most cases, the primary goal of foster care is to eventually reunite children with their biological family.
When that's not possible, adoption may enter the picture.
Approximately 905 of the more than 10,000 children in foster care in the state have an immediate need for a permanent, loving family, according to LSS of Minnesota, which partners in adoption with the Children’s Home Society of Minnesota.
The agency said for families wanting to provide permanence for children in foster care, there is little-to-no cost for adoption and available support.
Anderson said it’s never been her intention to adopt her foster kids, but she is committed to helping them succeed.
The improvement is gradual; she’ll sometimes get a phone call or a "thank you" long after they’ve left her care.
“You don't really see it and appreciate it until way farther on down the road,” she said.