Montgomery County foster home shortage means costlier placements of kids

Montgomery County needs more foster parents, and without them, more children will be housed in contract and group homes that cost taxpayers more money and don’t offer kids a full-time parent figure.

“Sometimes because of the lack of local homes willing to take a child, we put a child into a level of care that is higher than they require,” said Jewell Good, Montgomery County Children Services assistant director. “They just need a family level home, but finding a family level home is a challenge.”

Over the past four years, the county has seen a nearly 25-percent decline in the number of people opening their homes to kids who have been neglected by their parents or are living in unsafe conditions, Good said. While the number of children in custody at any given time — now about 670 — is down from a high in 2010, the number in agency-licensed foster homes has dropped faster, agency statistics show.

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Fewer agency foster parents means the county sometimes spends triple or more the cost per child to place them in contract foster homes and residential and group homes.

A portion of the cost is unavoidable — some children have profound needs met only at a specialized facility out-of-county — but many kids would be better off with an agency-certified foster family, Good said.

In 2014, Montgomery County Children Services worked with 294 foster homes. By January of this year, the number shrunk to 230. The count rebounded some through recruitment efforts beginning over the summer.

Partial victim of success

One reason for the shortage is that up to a third of foster parents quit fostering after adopting a child first put into their care by the state, Good said.

“That’s a success,” she said. “That’s the reason we wish to have people dropping off.”

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Megan and Kraig Neer were one of 45 licensed foster care providers for Children Services to stop fostering this year. Like 14 others, they quit because they adopted the child in their care who is now the baby sister to their two biological sons.

“We had a really positive experience with all of it. But we need to wait now until we’re in a better place to take children again,” said Megan Neer.

The Neers, of Dayton, were foster parents to two sisters who came to them at ages 7 and 8. Then they took in a three-day old baby, now 2, and adopted her in September. Once Mia reaches into grade school, the couple will likely resume fostering, Neer said.

“Our fullest intention is that it’s temporary,” she said.

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The two foster daughters may not have known why they were taken from their own home, but saw a different way of life before they were reunified with their own family, Neer said.

“They saw that we ate dinner together as a family … They saw the books we read, the way that we spent our time, the way that we treated our extended family and the people around us,” she said. “I could see that it made a big difference in them to see those choices made.”

There is always an ebb and flow in the number of foster families, but the pool is always too shallow, Good said. In addition to adoptions or having more of their own children, foster parents also drop out due to other reasons such as a new job, relocation, illness or aging.

Public agency foster parents receive $21.55 per day for caring for a child 12 and younger and $28.57 for those 13 and older.

But when Children Services is out of foster homes — and required by law to place a child — the cost of a contract or group home can be another $50-$80 a day for each child, she said.

“Group homes are a desperate resource that we value greatly, but the weakness of a group home is it’s not a familial setting,” Good said. “So those kids don’t get a mother figure or a father figure that’s there 24 hours a day”

As of Thursday, the agency had spent nearly $18 million on placing foster children this year, just $1.9 million of that in agency homes. More than $8.7 million went to pay for contract foster homes, $4.3 million to group homes and the remainder to residential centers.

Foster parents have say

Calculating the number of needed foster homes is complicated because foster parents have a say in the gender and ages of children they take in, Good said.

“You always have to have more homes than you actually have kids to be able to accommodate the various ages,” she said. “We have lots of homes that want babies, but finding homes that want teenage boys with delinquency history is a different ball game.”

Christie and Brian Looney of Huber Heights went through 36 hours of Children Services’ pre-service training to prepare to become foster parents in 2015.

“The trainers do a wonderful job of preparing you for journey, but hands-on experience is always best,” Christie Looney said. “There’s always going to be challenges that they just can’t teach you.”

The Looneys, with five biological children, have fostered three others, including an opioid-exposed baby and a 19-month-old girl they will adopt in February.

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“No matter how long that child is in your home, you’re there to help them through the time they’re with you and give them stability and love and nurturing and fulfilling those wants and needs that they have,” Looney said.

No time may ever feel right to become a foster parent, Neer said.

“I would urge people to not wait until the perfect time,” she said. “If we had, we wouldn’t have gotten Mia, we wouldn’t have had those other two foster daughters we are still involved with.”

How to become a foster parent

Montgomery County Children Services’ next two monthly informational meetings for prospective foster or adoptive parents at Montgomery County.

Jan. 3, 6 p.m.-7:30 p.m.

Feb. 1, 6 p.m.-7:30 p.m.

Haines Children Center

3304 North Main Street, Dayton

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