Need for foster homes in Fargo could rise, advocates say
More foster children are in need of homes than ever; as that number rises they'll need more homes to stay in.
FARGO — Child welfare advocates in North Dakota say the state is no exception to a growing nationwide need for foster homes, and with new federal rules that need might grow more.
"There's a shortage nationwide. We feel it here, but we know it's true across the country, unfortunately there's more kids needing foster care," said Nancy Mckenzie, executive director of The Professional Association of Treatment Homes of North Dakota, a child-services agency.
PATH is a non-profit child services agency in North Dakota that is part of Nexus, a multi-state social services non-profit organization. At PATH in Fargo, foster children with mental health needs are matched with foster homes.
Between 2012 and 2016, the number of children in foster care in the United States has grown steadily, from roughly 397,000 to more than 437,000.
North Dakota has more than 1,500 children in foster care, but even on a regional level the shortage of homes shows.
Around 20 Fargo children served by Nexus need homes, according to Jen Hinze, the Southeast Regional Director for PATH ND.
Part of the difficulty comes from constantly changing availability. It's hard to maintain a pool of homes large enough to meet demand because any are lost over time.
"Folks might move away, out-of-state and not be available to us anymore. Sometimes people adopt their foster children," McKenzie explained.
The number of children in need of foster homes may also may also see a jump because of new Federal rules about which children need to be placed in a home.
McKenzie said newly enacted Federal legislation called the "Family First Prevention Act" could make it so more kids require a foster home if they don't need special care.
The act requires children to stay in foster facilities that can accommodate their mental health needs — meaning some children that stay in residential facilities that exceed their needs could be moved to traditional foster homes.
"If not, arrangements should be made for placement in foster facilities. We're anticipating, and rightly so, that we'll see more demand for foster homes because of that," said McKenzie.
The need for more homes isn't because of a lack of qualified foster parents, advocates say. You might be surprised who they are:
"Your neighbor. They're just plain folks," Hinze said.
Through PATH, you can be a part-time foster parent, or even a mentor. It doesn't have to be a full-time commitment.
"Really it just takes a heart and a passion for it. A willingness to learn. PATH does a great job of supporting our foster parents," said Hinze.
More information on becoming a foster parent can be found at PATH and Cass County Social Services ' websites.