AUGUSTA— The Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Commissioner Mary Mayhew and local foster parents gathered today to encourage more families to open their homes to children in need. Over the years, DHHS has seen an increase in the number of children needing placement and more foster families are needed to provide a caring home for children in need. This increase is largely due to the drug crisis facing our state, with more than 60 percent of the children coming into protective custody are there due to parental substance abuse as a risk factor. In addition, more than 1,000 babies are born drug-affected every year.
“The opiate and heroin epidemic facing Maine and the rest of our nation is destroying the fabric of our families and communities. We have an obligation to support these children and provide them with a safe and stable home. Unfortunately, the number of children in need is far outpacing the number of families willing and able to help,” said DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew. “We are asking for the public to step forward and provide the care these children need.”
The Department continues to invest in community prevention services to detect high-risk cases and reduce the number of children in foster care. Despite some success, additional support is needed. The Office of Child and Family Services (OCFS) has seen the number of children under the age of five in state custody nearly double over the last 10 years.
In 2015, 870 children entered state custody. Over the next year, the Office of Child and Family Services (OCFS) estimates 580 foster homes will be needed to care for these children. Fortunately, a majority of these children will be placed with relatives or families already licensed to be a foster parents. However, the state will need approximately 66 new foster families to step forward to care for these children.
The primary need for these new foster families focuses on four categories:
· Support reunification
· Care for sibling groups of three or more
· Care for teens
· Care for youth with special health needs
Currently, there are 1,943 Maine children in foster care. Children must be placed in suitable foster homes in appropriate locations, to ensure a child’s life is disrupted as little as possible. This is an integral part of OCFS’s work.
The process of applying for a foster parenting license begins with attending an informational meeting. These are scheduled on a regular basis in each of OCFS’s district offices. At the meeting, prospective foster parents will hear about the typical needs of children needing a foster home. Those interested must submit an application to DHHS, provide three references, consent to a criminal background check for which there is a minimal fee, allow for a fire and safety inspection of their home and engage with DHHS staff in completion of a home study which identifies the strengths and needs of the applicant’s home.
“Whether it is a temporary or permanent basis, foster parents play a crucial role in that child’s life. Foster families have the ability to positively impact the lives of Maine children in need,” said Commissioner Mayhew.