OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — May is National Foster Care Month, and Thursday, Gov. Pete Ricketts emphasized the importance of adoption. According to the state's Foster Care Review Office website, there are currently 4,161 children in out-of-home care or trial home visits.
Of all kids in out-of-home care placements in the state of Nebraska, 39.97% are in Douglas County. This includes foster homes, children who are wards of DHHS and youth who reside outside of their homes under the supervision of Juvenile Probation and the Office of Juvenile Services.
Officials say not only are the needs high, but they're vast.
"There are children with high needs, especially complex mental health or behavioral health or neurodiversity issues that are typically hard to place. Also, teenagers we need, there’s a desperate need for homes for teenagers, boys and girls and I know there are people out there who love teenagers just as much as people love little children," Monika Gross, Executive Director of Nebraska Foster Care Review Office said. "We really need homes of families who look like the children of care so it’s really very important that every community out there thinks about that and how they can serve the children in their community."
Amber Richardson has been fostering children for 14 years. She's been passionate about fostering since accepting her first placement.
"You see, there's obviously a need in the community. With our first placement in 2007, he came to us with a single back trash bag, and obviously, that breaks your heart. So once you see those things you can’t unsee, you can’t un-know it," Richardson said.
Beyond the need for more families, though, Richardson says foster families need more support and resources.
"There’s a need to support foster parents, obviously they get stipends but the stipend isn’t very big and there’s a number of different things you’re using the funds for whether that's activities or transportation or maybe someone has a special diet," Richardson said.
It's part of the reason she opened Foster Love, a boutique-style store that offers free clothes and hygiene products to foster families. Through the organization, she's also built a community of support.
Officials say, besides foster families, stability is also important for kids in the system.
"So really if a child has to be removed from their family their first placement would be their last placement would be their only placement and that placement stability is strongly correlated with better outcomes," Gross said.
But, a high turnover of workers in the field can impact that. Richardson says more funding and resources poured into programs can help that.
"Investing in the programs, investing in your foster parents, resources and funds can help. [If] we have more funds and are able to hire more people to be case managers the less overworked people are and the better the kids are served," Richardson said.
If you'd like to become a foster parent you can find more information on DHHS.ne.gov