N. Indiana couple working to become foster parents

 
By JEFF WIEHE
Posted1/11/2015 12:05 PM
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NORTH MANCHESTER, Ind. -- They've been married for 2 1/2 years, are in their late 20s, live in a big enough house, are both gainfully employed and even have large extended families to help them out when needed.

Alyssa and Dustin McDowell have all the means to begin a family and have a child.

Except one.

Time.

"She just doesn't have nine months to cook one up," said Dustin of his wife, who teaches math in Peru and has her sights set on a career in a school system.

So the McDowells, who live in North Manchester, are taking an alternative route: They've begun the process of becoming registered foster parents in Indiana.

And like everywhere else in the country, foster parents are a constant need throughout the Hoosier state.

Some private foster agencies have emailed The Journal Gazette in recent months about the need for foster parents in the area, and state Department of Child Services officials said there is a constant need for foster care.

In Indiana, there are 5,408 foster homes licensed through the DCS. There are 10,729 children currently in the agency's out-of-home placement program.

Which doesn't necessarily mean there are thousands of children in need of foster care going without it, officials said. Some kids are grouped with siblings; some have been placed with relatives who are not licensed foster parents until a home opens up.

But those numbers do demonstrate a need for foster parents on a regular basis, officials said, partly because there are always children coming into the system and partly because of the high turnover rate when it comes to foster parents.

Some foster parents adopt the children they take care of and decide they can't foster anymore; others reach the limit of children they can take care of, and some simply leave the program for one reason or another.

"Fostering is not necessarily a lifetime gig," Tristyn Ryan, manager of the DCS's foster program, told The Journal Gazette (http://bit.ly/1xcTO4u ).

For the McDowells, their path to wanting to become foster parents began with the idea of adoption.

Both are Christians - Dustin is a former youth pastor - and felt that signs were being thrown their way. Literally. Signs in yards promoting foster care; lines in television shows they'd watch about foster parents.

"We thought maybe it was God telling us since we want kids, maybe this is how," Dustin said.

The goal of foster parenting is not necessarily permanent placement of a child within the foster home. The goal is to give a child a safe place to be until a permanent place can be found for her or him - many times, state officials hope to place children back with their parents.

Some foster parents do end up adopting the children they care for, though. While that option might be possible for the McDowells down the line, they are going into their endeavor with the idea that they will give children a home while the adults in their lives get straightened out.

"We just want to help, to give them a place where they can be cared for while their parents get back on track," he said.

Foster parents receive a per diem stipend if they go through DCS, and that amount is usually based on a specific child's needs, state officials said.

Indiana also contracts with private foster agencies across the state through which people can become foster parents.

According to Ryan, many of these agencies provide "therapeutic" training to take in children with behavioral issues.

One hurdle facing state and private agencies alike is finding foster care for older children.

Many foster parents are willing to take in toddlers and infants. Even the McDowells have an age limit on the child they want to take in, telling officials they'd prefer her or him to be between the ages of 5 and 10 or no older than a fifth-grader.

"It is difficult," said Sarah Widman, a spokeswoman for Benchmark Family Services in Fort Wayne, about finding foster homes for older children. "It isn't always easy, but that's why we work with the foster parents."

And because it can be difficult to find foster care, state officials have set up a hotline for those seeking information about becoming a foster parent - 888-631-9510 - and a website, www.in.gov/dcs/2983.htm .

"There's always a need for people to come to the table," Ryan said.

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Information from: The Journal Gazette, http://www.journalgazette.net