Adam Rodakowski

Adam Rodakowski

One harsh reality of the pandemic often goes unnoticed: the continued need for foster parents.

Similar to many regions across the state, Eastern Oregon faces a critical shortage of foster homes for youth in need. Unlike many other areas, however, these rural and frontier communities have a history of joining together to address complex challenges facing their most vulnerable populations. We don’t see it as an “agency” problem to fix but rather find support through community collaborations and from the care of foster families.

In Oregon, an average of 7,345 children are in foster care on a daily basis, according to state data from 2019. Greater Oregon Behavioral Health, Inc., (GOBHI) has a foster care program that provides homes for youth in local communities involved in the child welfare system or for those youth being supported by their local community mental health program. Our agency certifies foster families and works in partnership with the Oregon Department of Human Services Child Welfare to provide additional support services to youth and our foster families.

The ongoing need for foster families is well known. However, the pandemic has increased uncertainty for both youth in foster care, and foster families. Despite this challenge, the people caring for foster youth are making remarkable accomplishments in the lives of youth every day. These families make lifelong positive impacts on the youth they serve, and are crucial to the success of our communities.

I’m honored to work with and support our foster families. Whether the child they serve stays with them for a few days or becomes a permanent member of the family, foster families have the unique ability to be the stable, supportive adult during a challenging time in the life of a child. That leads us to the common question: How does the system work?

GOBHI is licensed by the state of Oregon to certify and provide homes for youth in local communities who are involved in the child welfare system, or are receiving care from their local community mental health program. We certify homes for children and teens ages 4 to 17. In 2019, we certified 54 homes in 18 counties.

GOBHI’s Therapeutic Foster Care program is a higher level of service and support than you would find through traditional foster care. We empower foster families to provide a safe environment that supports a healing process for our youth. Foster families receive training and ongoing support to help them create that type of environment. Training topics include trauma-informed care, de-escalation techniques, working with biological families, cultural awareness and evidence-based parenting practices. Each home receives an assigned case manager to support them and the youth in their home. Our team is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to provide support and guidance.

Help doesn’t stop at the case management level. Foster Plus is a 10 social service agency collaboration. Its purpose is to connect kids in need with the support and stability of committed, caring foster families. GOBHI leads this collaborative group dedicated to increasing the number of safe foster homes and supports other agencies to improve services to children.

The positive impact that a foster parent can have on a child lasts a lifetime. We often hear stories of children who may have spent less than six months in a foster home but later in life contacted their foster parent to express their gratitude.

“Deciding to be a foster parent was rather scary for us. Now I can say, I wouldn’t trade it for anything else. I’ve seen such a difference in their life, and also in ours. The GOBHI team was right there along the way and that’s exactly the type of support we needed,” a foster parent said.

If you have wanted to find a way to help children — especially those children in your own community — this is a way to do so. You will be ensuring that all kids in Eastern Oregon know they are wanted and safe during a very scary time in their lives.

If you have even considered fostering, please reach out. There are two options for people looking to become a foster parent:

• Full time: A child may reside in your home for 6-24 months

• Part time: Children will reside in your home for 2-14 days

Everyone can help in ways small and large. We welcome anyone who’s ready to make a change.

Adam Rodakowski is the director of Greater Oregon Behaviorial Health Inc.’s Therapeutic Foster Care program. Patrick Mulvihill, GOBHI communications coordinator, also contributed to this article.

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