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Foster care - bringing stability, more to youth

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Royal Family Kids Camp

Jonathan Niles, right, plays with slime during a previous year of Royal Family Kids Camp. He and his wife, Cristine Niles, help organize the program locally, which is for children ages 7 to 11 who are in foster care.

The need for foster families is always present, but Nanette Simmons said the COVID-19 pandemic has presented new challenges for Nebraska's foster care and adoption systems in the last two years.

Simmons is an administrator for the Nebraska Department Health and Human Services' Children and Family Services (CFS) department.

"There are many individuals who maybe would be interested in becoming a licensed foster parent or providing foster care and adoption services for foster children, but they have been a little bit cautious, maybe because of some of their personal health concerns," Simmons said.

Building Blocks for Kids Training and Recruiting Specialist Tonya Bauman echoed Simmons point, saying that need has been particularly high in communities located near or along Highway 30.

Building Blocks for Kids is a foster care agency with offices in O'Neill, Norfolk and Grand Island that serves communities in roughly 50 Nebraska counties, including Butler County. Foster care agencies like Building Blocks work with CFS to place youths with licensed foster families.

Bauman said there are any number of reasons a youth might be placed in foster care.

"Folks who have children in the foster care system are not bad people -- they are struggling people," Bauman said. "...Sometimes, substance abuse or mental health interferes with a parent's ability to take care of their children, but it doesn't impair their ability to love their children."

When CFS determines foster care to be necessary, Simmons said relatives are considered first for placement options.

"We must (consider) if there are any relatives who are willing and able to care for that child or children. If there aren't relatives, then we move to … someone who … is known to the child. But there are circumstances where that's not possible … so that's when we would look to one of our contracted, licensed foster care agencies," Simmons said.

When a licensed foster home is needed, CFS asks local foster care agencies like Building Blocks for a list of potentially suitable licensed foster families.

Bauman said most people become licensed foster care parents to support the reunification of youth with their natural family.

Ideally, Bauman and Simmons said, a foster home situation ends with reunification. But reunification isn't always a possibility or a safe option for the youth in question. When reunification doesn't work out, adoption may be an option.

Communities and courtrooms across the country recently celebrated the adoptions of children in foster care on National Adoption Day, which fell on Nov. 20 this year.

But no matter what happens, Bauman said foster families play an important role by bringing stability to youth during a time of hardship and uncertainty that can be traumatic.

Simmons encouraged anyone wanting more information about becoming a licensed foster care parent to call the Nebraska Foster and Adoptive Parent Association at 1-800-772-7368 or visit the group's website at nfapa.org.

Bauman encouraged people to also check out buildingblocks.org for more information on how to become a licensed foster parent.

"Every child is just one adult away from a success story and you never know which kid you might interact with where you become the source of their success or their mentor," Bauman said.

Molly Hunter is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach her via email at molly.hunter@lee.net.

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