Yolo County is currently experiencing a shortage of foster parents both due to an increase in children entering the system and a deficit of available foster parent homes.
According to Cherie Schroeder, educational specialist and program director for Yolo County Foster Care, it is not just Yolo County experiencing a shortage of foster families but also counties all over California.
Schroeder said that she is unsure of the reason for the increase of children entering the foster care system at this time. She speculates that it could be due to the improvement of the economy after an extended period of financial hardship.
“The economy is back on the upswing, but for people who haven’t gotten their jobs back, their housing back, they’ve been riding this financially stressful ride for three or four years. I just think that there is still a lot of stress,” Schroeder said.
She speculates that the rate of reporting child abuse has increased because more children are re-entering daycares and other institutional settings where they are under the care of mandated reporters, combined with the fact that more mandated reporters are employed in these settings.
At present, there are 270 children in Yolo County Foster Care, 20 of which entered the system in November in the span of two weeks – a major influx. In addition, current foster parent homes are at a deficit for availability.
Each foster parent at the time of licensing has their home evaluated for how many children can safely live in their home. Amount of experience the foster parent has with the foster care system is also taken into account.
“Licensing is careful in making sure we aren’t taking on more than we are prepared for, so a new foster parent may only be licensed for one, even if they have bed space for two or three, and then as they become more experienced that bed space can be opened up,” said Renee Hemsley, current foster parent and former foster youth.
For parents to become licensed in the foster care system they have to participate in pre-licensing classes put on by Yolo County Foster Care. The classes teach prospective foster parents about the resources they should utilize when a child comes into their home, how to best navigate the foster care system to result in what is best for the child and prepare them for what to expect. The course consists of a series of five classes with the location oscillating every five weeks between Woodland and West Sacramento. Additionally, Woodland Community college has dedicated a room to the course where Yolo County Foster Care has set up a library, promotional posters and other resources for prospective foster parents to utilize.
Schroeder has been getting the word out about the course to recruit more prospective foster parents through various forms of advertising but the most successful recruitment method has been word of mouth via foster parents satisfied with the program.
To help support foster parents, non-profit First 5 Yolo sponsors essential placement shopping for children aged zero to five and Yocha Dehe Wintun Community Foundation funds the essential placement shopping for foster youth aged six to 20.
“The day that they come into care, we take them to Target, we call it essential placement shopping, we get them pajamas [and] uniforms for school,” Schroeder said.
Not only is this a big help to foster parents, but it can also help ease the children into foster care as their first days entering care can be challenging.
Although there is a need for more foster parents in Yolo County, there are certain traits that both Schroeder and current foster parents think are essential to have when becoming a foster parent.
“Flexibility is the biggest thing; if they call you at two o’clock in the morning and they need to bring a baby to you, you need to be open, willing and ready. You need to be unbiased, you have to know that this is not an easy process,” said Sherry Smith, a current foster parent.
Alison and Michael Anderson are prospective foster parents currently taking the Foster & Kinship Care Education Program. They were motivated to become foster parents because of their hope to adopt a child. Alison works for Child Protective Services as a social worker in Sacramento County, so she said she is especially aware of the great need for foster parents.
Both Alison and Michael said that the course has been very helpful and can get emotional when hearing different adoption stories. Additionally, because the Yolo County group of foster parents is relatively small, they said they feel the group will be a good support for them when it comes time for a child to enter their home.
Although the Andersons are anticipating all the challenges that come with the foster care system including the high likelihood that foster child will be reunified with his or her parents, they are excited to foster a baby and hopefully have the option to adopt and becoming first time parents.