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Thousands of Nevada children are in foster care. That includes 3,000 children in Clark County and about 4,500 statewide.
Some need temporary care; others are ready to be adopted, but there aren’t enough homes. So statewide, officials are trying to get more people to become foster parents.
Tim Burch is the administrator for Clark County Human Services. He says there are about 600 licensed foster care families in Clark County.
"You can see that we have not enough homes for the number of children we need to have placement, specifically when we start talking about large sibling groups. It is always our goal to keep brothers and sisters together for that sibling bonding," he said.
When a child is removed from a home, the county first tries to find a relative or a close family friend who can take the child. If they can't find someone with a close bond to the child, they must turn to a foster family.
He said they are always on the lookout for qualified, interested, loving, caring, kind, compassionate people to be foster parents.
If a child cannot be placed with a relative or a foster family, then they go to the county's emergency shelter. However, federal rules for emergency shelters are changing, Burch said.
The federal government will start penalizing jurisdictions that let kids linger too long in an emergency shelter. In addition, Burch said keeping a child in a shelter is difficult for him or her because they're missing the stability of a family and a home environment.
The county recently received a grant to help fund a project to create interim housing for older foster children so they don't get stuck in an emergency shelter for too long.
While it is a challenge to find enough foster homes in the urban centers of Clark and Washoe County, it is extremely difficult to find a place for kids in Nevada's rural counties.
Lori Nichols is in charge of foster services for Nevada's 15 rural counties. She said children in rural counties are separated from their families for the same reasons as in urban areas, but finding a home for them is more difficult.
They often cannot find a foster home in the same community, which means the child must go to a new community, which might be hundreds of miles away.
"Kids are traumatized when they come into foster care," Nichols said. "And they are even more so traumatized when they have to be taken away from a community that they're familiar with."
To make matters worse, Nichols said it is like a domino effect around the state as kids are placed in different communities then kids from that community who need help — need to go someplace else.
"It's just this vicious cycle that keeps going around rural Nevada," she said. "All these kids are placed in homes that are outside of their community."
While being a foster parent means helping a kid in need, Kim Foster, who has fostered 10 children over the years, says it is much more than that.
"You are not just an advocate for the child and a healthy person who can help a traumatized child," Foster said. "You're also maybe the only healthy person that that biological family has in their life."
She said many parents who are struggling to take care of their children do not have the support system to give them help and teach them life skills that they need. Foster said foster families can give them that support and coping strategies.
"The greatest joy in foster care is helping a family come back together," she said.
Foster said people who might be considering becoming a foster family should start the process and attend some of the classes. She said people can always stop the classes if they decide it is not for them.
Myesha Wilson is the executive director of Olive Crest. The organization is working to end the cycle of child abuse and neglect. It partners with Clark County to vet and train foster families.
Wilson said that even though the need for foster families in Nevada is large, they wouldn't place a child with a family that wasn't a right fit.
"At the end of the day, we want to make a difference in a child's life, one child at a time," she said. "If we do not do our due diligence in the process then the child will suffer and they are re-traumatized."
For those considering fostering a child, Wilson reassured them that her organization walks alongside them through the process and provides help once a child has been placed in their home.
She also pushed back on misconceptions about children in foster care, especially teenagers, who need a home just like a young child but are often not placed because of people's fears.
"People think that they are delinquent or troublemakers and really they don't have that support system that can wrap around them and provide that family love," she said.
Wilson said that people see a teenager that couldn't possibly want love or a hug but in reality, all children in foster care — infants through 18 — want and need a home.
Another misconception about foster care is that once a child is reunited with their family they are out of your life. Kim Foster says that has only been the case with two of the children she brought into her home.
Foster said, in reality, the children she has fostered have become part of her extended family. She still helps the biological mother of one of her former foster children and babysits when needed.
For Foster, taking in kids who need help is one of the best ways to help neighbors who are struggling.
"Everybody wants to do something great for the community," she said. "Foster parenting is really one of the only things that you can do where there is an immediate impact on the community."
Clark County Recruitment Team - 702-455-0181
Clark County Foster Adoptions Program - 702-455-0800
Lori Nichols, licensed social worker, Nevada Division of Child and Family Services; Tim Burch, administrator, Clark County Human Services; Myesha Wilson, executive director, Olive Crest; Kim Foster, foster parent
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