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STATE TURNS TO CHURCHES TO LINE UP FOSTER PARENTS

SHARE STATE TURNS TO CHURCHES TO LINE UP FOSTER PARENTS

It takes a special kind of person to give heart, home and time to a troubled child who has been the victim of abuse or neglect.

State officials say there just aren't enough people willing to sign on as foster parents. "The people we have are quality people; we just don't have sufficient numbers of those kinds of people," says Lt. Gov. Olene Walker. "Certainly not commensurate with the need."That's why Walker met recently with representatives of most major religious organizations in the state to ask for help in recruiting quality foster parents.

Next month, Walker, the Division of Family Services and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will announce a major cooperative effort to use the church's ecclesiastical and social services network to recruit qualified foster parents of the LDS faith.

The Ogden Ministerial Association has also expressed interest in working with the state toward the same end.

"We anticipate a greater participation on their part in trying to find quality homes so the case workers have better choices on where those children will go" if they are temporarily removed from their homes, Walker said.

Lack of foster homes has created a crisis, according to Suzanne Timmerman, foster care specialist in Family Services. Utah could use at least 800 more foster families. Although the division got 184 new homes last quarter, they lost about the same number, so the number of foster homes stayed about the same. But the number of children in state custody went up by about 200 in the past six months. The state has about 800 homes - half of what it needs.

"We think that many children being placed in structured group homes or specialized care (at $25 and $15 a day) could be placed in foster homes ($10), if we had those homes available." Timmerman said.

"I received no negative comments from any of them (the churches)," Walker said, "but those two (the Ogden Ministerial Association and LDS Church) were the only ones to step forward in a real vocal manner, to be willing to work out some kind of program to get families involved."

On Monday, Timmerman was questioned by the Administrative Rules Committee, which wanted a report on how a volunteer foster parent program authorized by the Legislature is going.

It isn't, she said. And the division now makes little effort to recruit volunteer foster parents.

Foster parents like the woman who puts the money she receives in a trust fund for the foster child are very rare. And foster parents are offended by the suggestion that they provide care for the money. "They feel they already volunteer their time," Timmerman said. "What they receive just takes care of the costs of the child. Most who volunteer to be foster parents are lower middle income. They like children and believe they can help and nurture them, but they can't afford to do it without the money (to cover costs). They say, `We don't do it for the money, but we couldn't do it without the money.' And the commitment of time is significant.

"It takes a tremendous commitment to be a foster parent, a very special person. Most are saints," Timmerman said. "It is a myth that foster parents do it for the money."

Furthermore, families willing to open their homes to foster children "are not on the east bench" where families can afford to feed and clothe an extra child or two, she said.

Timmerman added that any cam-paign to recruit foster parents faces an uphill battle. The Division of Family Services recently prepared public service announcements to recruit foster parents, but the local television stations won't run the announcements during prime time. And officials are not sure they are reaching their target audience by running the ads at 3 a.m.

The appeals to Utah church leaders could go a long way to alleviate the problem, Walker believes. "We determined this is a state problem, met with some of the church people to see what they could do. Some were able to do more than others."

To find out more about being a foster parent, call 538-HOME (4663).