In the last few months of 2015 there was much talk about the foster care crisis in Highland County. The number of children in the custody of our agency has reached epidemic proportions and the lack of local foster homes has created a large scale issue that can no longer be ignored.
Several big changes are in the works for 2016. We are confident that this year will be a pivotal year for Highland County Job and Family Services, Child Protection Unit, and the families we serve. We have some great employees here that are committed to protecting children and their passion for helping families will be a building block for us moving forward. We also have top-notch foster parents working with us, and we are continually impressed by their commitment to Highland County kids.
The first big change in our Foster Care program is a per diem increase that went into effect Jan. 1, 2016. Our new per diem is a flat rate of $27 per day, regardless of the age of the child. This is the first substantial increase we have been able to provide to our foster parents in quite some time. With this increase, we will be able to be more competitive with recruitment of new foster parents and it will assist us in retaining our current homes. While money should never be the motivating factor for families stepping forward to become foster parents, we recognize that fostering does take a financial toll on families. Families also give a significant amount of time to caring for extra needs of children in custody and we want to compensate them fairly for their work.
Highland County JFS has also begun working closely with Denise Goodman. Denise is a nationally known consultant with The Annie E. Casey Foundation who specializes in recruitment and retention of foster parents. Denise is an Ohio native who travels around the country helping agencies with many of the same issues we are faced with here in Highland County. Her consultant services are free to us and we are honored to be working with her. In our first meeting with her we were able to come up with some concrete strategies for recruitment and retention that we will put into place this year.
Highland County JFS has also been awarded a grant with Wendy’s Wonderful Kids, a division of the Dave Thomas Foundation, to secure the services of an adoption recruiter who will work with children in the permanent custody of the agency. The goal of this grant is to find forever homes for these deserving children.
We believe strongly that children belong with family members or kin first and foremost. Currently, about one-third of our custody children are in kinship placements. We are working with the court and the prosecutor’s office to transition some of these children into the custody of their relatives.
We are also taking a look at our internal policies and procedures in an effort to streamline the kinship home study process. The most noteworthy process change will be the purchase of a Web-Check system which will allow us to complete our own BCI and FBI checks in-house. In most cases, this will allow us to receive results in 24-48 hours instead of three to four weeks. Being able to start a Kinship Home Study within a week instead of a month will be a tremendous benefit to the children and families of Highland County.
Truly, enough good things can’t be said about the people of Highland County and I would encourage everyone to reach out and ask what you can do for our kids and families. Several local businesses have generously donated time and service to our kids and we cannot express our gratitude enough. We are confident that as a county we will see a change for the better in 2016.
If you have questions about becoming a foster or adoptive parent, please contact Jodi Kidder at 937-393-4278 ext. 5055.
Katie Adams is the assistant director of Highland County Job and Family Services.