Solving the foster care hotel crisis
It starts with a call. A social worker at the Oregon Department of Human Services learns there is a child in foster care who needs a home. The child has just been removed from either a foster home or their biological family. The details about why they have been removed can be murky, but one thing is always clear – this child needs a place to stay that night.
The social worker reaches out to foster parents who may be able to take the child. Oftentimes though, foster parents have restrictions on the type of children they are willing to take. For children entering foster care with the highest mental, physical or social needs, the list of available foster homes is limited. Because so many children in foster care have high needs, especially those who have been in the system for a significant amount of time, a high-quality foster parent open to a range of different children is critical.
Statewide, Oregon has a deficit of these types of foster homes. The Portland-metro area alone needs an additional 500 homes to meet the needs of the city. . With a gap this large, the foster parents who can take children with higher needs are already full to capacity. They may not be available for days, or even weeks, to take a new child. This can make it nearly impossible to find a home in a matter of hours for a child who desperately needs one.
After spending the work day searching for a home, 5 PM approaches and the caseworker is now running out of options. By this point, the child has been dropped off at the office. They are usually scared, confused or frustrated about being moved. They are waiting in the lobby to find out where they will be going next. Unfortunately, the social worker does not know where next is going to be.
As evening turns into night, the social worker is now left with only one option – the child is going to spend tonight, and potentially many more nights, in a temporary place that isn't a foster home. This will either be a hotel room or the local DHS branch office. The child, who is in a very delicate, damaged state, won't receive the crucial care they desperately need. They will not attend school and likely won't receive access to mental, physical or social help that will lead to the healing process. They will sit waiting idly for a bed in a foster home to open up.
This situation has played out time and time again this year. From the start of 2017 through late June, more than 130 children spent at least one night in either a DHS office or hotel room. One child, a 5-year-old boy, stayed in a hotel room for 55 days.
As an organization that has been committed to helping children in foster care, this practice goes against everything Boys & Girls Aid has stood for since we were founded in 1885. It was alarming and disheartening to learn of the practices.
In July, we signed on to do something about this crisi. DHS has invested in Boys & Girls Aid launched a new program called The Nest. It will serve as a safe landing place for children entering foster care who are out of options. The Nest ensures infants to 8-year-olds will no longer sit in a hotel room or DHS office unsure about their future. They will get better support.
At The Nest, we have recruited and trained foster parents who are skilled and prepared to take children with complex needs and behaviors. They have agreed to take children into their home. To make sure our foster parents are successful, we have hired highly skilled staff who will help care for the children seven days a week. This care creates security and the healing can begin.
Since we were founded, Boys & Girls Aid has been committed to the belief that children should grow up in permanent, stable families. In 2017, we are focused on limiting the number of moves children in foster care make, and if they do need to stay somewhere temporarily, we are ensuring that it is a home, not a hotel.
Our focus with The Nest is to ensure every child grows up in a family. By providing a safe landing at The Nest, we will stop the trauma of abandonment that comes from the constant threat of moving. The stability the program offers will allow caseworkers to have more time to find that crucial long-term placement without seeing a child move between hotel rooms and foster homes. Caseworkers will have the ability to search for family connections or give the biological family time to fix the problems that lead to their child or children entering care in the first place.
Our commitment to The Nest is a commitment to helping some of the most at-risk children in Oregon take the first step to finding their forever family.