May-National Foster Care Month

May-National Foster Care Month
by Jennifer LB Leese

Maryland juvenile justice has been around for hundreds of years. During colonial times, children were often jailed along with their parents. Of course you don't see this today, but what we do see is that children are left behind in need of loving homes. These are children of all ages. These children often see the world as uncaring and dangerous, especially the older children. By opening up your home and becoming a foster parent for teenagers, you help them see that there are helpful, loving, and generous people out there.
Right now in Maryland, hundreds of teenagers need foster care. Some need foster care for a few days. Others need it for months, maybe even years. But all of them need a dedicated, caring, and structured environment to help them see and strive for the future they deserve.
Don't all children, no matter what their age, deserve a carefree life full of love and support?
Now's your time to get involved.
The Department of Juvenile Services (DJS), a State agency, provides care and supervision for delinquent youth and youth with behavior problems, such as chronic running away, truancy, and curfew violations. There's a reason for this behavior.
The Department of Juvenile Services Foster Parent program is different from those managed by local social service agencies. Their youth have been found to be delinquent by a juvenile court.
"The role of today's Department of Juvenile Services (DJS) stems from the nineteenth century when Maryland first established institutions to reform delinquent youth. In 1830, the State adopted the radical policy of separating juvenile delinquents from adult criminals. The Legislature passed "An Act to Establish A House of Refuge for Juvenile Delinquents" creating for the first time an authority to provide troubled children with homes, education, and job training.
"Over the years, Maryland has significantly changed the way it cares for troubled youth."
Juvenile justice has evolved greatly and Melissa Rice, foster care coordinator, is someone who is fighting for them. Rice needs your help to get these kids into homes. "We need to get the word out. We have many kids waiting for beds," she said. "They may still be in their home, they may be in a shelter care facility or in a detention facility." The Maryland Department of Juvenile Services generally places youth between the ages of 10-18. They are "looking for qualified people who want to make a difference."
It is not easy to be a Foster Parent. The approval process can be long... Caring for a troubled youth can be difficult... It requires an emotional investment. For people who are up to the challenge though, providing stability, authority, and care for a youth is tremendously rewarding.
Unlike foster care through local social service agencies, "these kids are not up for adoption". Rice said these children are referred to DJS because "they were, for some reason, removed from their home and it was then decided that foster care was the best placement for them."
Teenagers are our future. They are our future teachers, parents, and leaders. But they cannot become a successful adult without stability and guidance as a younger child. Teenagers need someone to listen, to encourage, and applause. They need you.
The purpose of the Foster Parent program is to keep young people in their communities until they can be reunited with their families while:
* Providing a supportive home environment
* Offering stability and guidance
* Demonstrating positive adult and family role models
* Working closely with a youth's biological parents or guardian
To date, more than 100 families have opened their homes for young people, 12 to 18 years old, for three to 18 months. As Foster Parents, they provide general care and supervision. Youth attend school and receive counseling while living with their foster parents. However, Foster Parents are not the youth's legal guardian, that responsibility goes to the Department of Juvenile Services.
If you are over 25 years old and would like to open your home and heart to a youth, Maryland law requires the following steps in order to become certified as a Foster Parent.
* Once you complete the application, an employee will meet you for an interview and home visit.
* Your references are checked and a background investigation is conducted. (This is standard for all employees and volunteers.)
* Your doctor certifies that your family has no medical problems that would adversely affect a youth.
* A fire and health inspection is made of your home and copies of your homeowners or rental insurance policies are obtained.
In exchange for this commitment of energy, emotion and effort, Foster Parents receive training and support from the Department, a monthly stipend of $930 per month/per child and are insured by the State for property damage, loss or personal injury. In order to prevent people from taking advantage of this compensation, one or both of the foster parents must have additional income from sources other than the stipend. The Department limits the number of youth a family can have to two. This ensures that each child's needs are being met and the foster parent is not overwhelmed with school, counseling and other court requirements.
"Our clients are generally between the ages of 12 and 18, however DJS can retain jurisdiction of a youth until he/she turns 21." (DJS) Many of the youth that come into care may have had struggles with school, substance abuse, and may have experienced some sort of abuse. They frequently have circumstances that prohibit them from thriving in their home environment. Some youth will return to their homes after a couple of months in foster care while others may stay in foster care for years until they are ready to be on their own.
Western Maryland- DJS had a very active foster care program in the late 1980s and 1990's. However, many parents have been lost due to people retiring, moving, or change in life circumstances in the early 2000's. The Department is moving in the direction of treating youth in the community they are from if possible, therefore increasing the need for more local homes. If a child is able to be cared for in a home in close proximity to their biological home, it is possible the child may be able to stay in the same school district, participate in family counseling and maintain contact with family members, this all works toward reunifying the youth with their biological family. In addition, foster care is an extremely cost efficient manner to the rising costs of out-of-home placements or even out-of-state placements.
"I want people to know that there is a real need to keep children in their home communities if possible, however, the only way we can do this is to have more homes/families that are willing to work with DJS clients," said Rice.
Help get these kids back on track! Call Melissa Rice today. She is available by calling 240-420-1734 just about any time of the day. She will send you an information packet, which she'll even come to your house and help you fill out the forms. It will seem somewhat lengthy, but this is due to the duplicates and sometimes triplicates that are enclosed. "I'll even put them in contact with the foster parent if you would like," Rice said.
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