A heart and a home for foster children in Yakima County
In Yakima County, the Department of Social and Health Services reports 258 children in licensed foster care, plus another 273 in licensed relative foster care or living with relatives. While reunification with biological parents is always the first goal for foster kids, Yakima adoptions supervisor Debbie Bond says adoption is the next best solution.
That means the agency is in constant need of more adoptive families willing to work through any potential concerns about a foster child’s past trauma. To facilitate the process, staff work hard to connect both parents and children with needed support services.
“I think we’re always recruiting and looking for additional families,” Bond said.
Full disclosure is paramount. Before a family adopts from foster care, DSHS’ Children’s Administration makes them privy to any information about the child, along with certain details about the biological parents.
“Anything that the department knows about the child, we provide that to our adoptive families,” Bond said. “If we have a child with pretty significant medical needs, we need to make sure that the family’s going to be able to meet those needs.”
The agency is most lacking in families wanting to adopt older children ages 4 to 7 and up into the teenage years. Teens 13 and older also must consent to their own adoption.
Parents who are unable to have biological children tend to want babies so they can raise them from birth, Bond said.
“They don’t necessarily want the older children, and our older children are the ones who maybe have the behavioral challenges,” she said. “Some families don’t feel that they’re able to meet those children’s needs.”
In the Teegardens’ case, one of their boys had suffered fractures and was deprived of oxygen at 5 weeks old when his biological father jammed a baby wipe down his throat because he wouldn’t stop crying. The Teegardens adopted the boy when he was 3 years old.
Whether it’s from abuse, neglect, or the trauma of being moved from home to home at a young age, “Everyone in foster care is going to have special needs,” Brian said.
That question always seems to come up when talking to other people about adoption, he said, even though biological parents also face the chance of a child born with special needs.
“When you go through the screening process and take all the classes to be a foster parent, you kind of identify what you think you can and cannot handle,” he said.
Even more than fear over potential challenges a foster child may have, Bond said, is that many adoptive parents are leery of the child being taken back by biological parents at the last minute.
“The fact of having a child come into your home and you get so attached to the child, then the child gets turned back to the parent, or moves to a relative . Sometimes our families really struggle with that,” she said.
Because reunification is the No. 1 goal, biological parents are given a trial period of six months where the child is returned to them after proving they are working to resolve the issues that led to the child being removed.pandora jewellery That could mean drug and alcohol services, parenting classes, domestic violence services or other requirements. If drugs were involved, the parents must agree to random drug testing to make sure they’re no longer using.
While the child is back with the biological parents during that trial period, Children’s Administration workers visit the home at least twice a month to monitor his or her well being.
Parents hoping to adopt their foster children often wrestle with the notion of releasing the kids back to a potentially risky home, Bond said.
“They see what happened to them they come into care because of abuse or neglect how can we send them back to that?” she said. “It’s really hard for families to understand that.”
The agency has to remind foster parents that the legal process requires them to give biological parents an opportunity to get their children back, so there is no guarantee they’ll be able to adopt the child. Both biological parents must relinquish their rights in order for the child to be legally free, which sometimes means the agency must ask the courts to terminate a parent’s rights.
Appeals by biological parents can take up to two years, Bond said, but the agency strives to get a child adopted within six months of becoming legally free.
The boy the Teegardens adopted in August returned to his biological family last summer for three months. The Teegardens worried the whole time that he would be abused or neglected again. It doesn’t take three months to cause permanent damage, Brian said: “You can do it in two seconds.”
Another girl they fostered lived with the family a full year before going to relatives out of state. That experience was so hard that for a while the Teegardens thought they’d never foster again.
To support adoptive parents and their new children, DSHS helps connect families with medical and mental health services, along with reimbursement payments that correspond to the special needs of each child.
An adoption support consultant meets with the family to assess the child’s needs. Bond said there is no clear maximum amount, but the payments top out at 80 percent of whatever the family was receiving while the child was still in the foster system. Children from the foster system are covered by Washington Apple Health until they’re 18, so the payments are for needs not covered by insurance.