Why kids from the Flathead end up out of the area in an emergency

Feb 7, 2014

Kids with chaotic family situations, with behavior and mental health issues, as young as you can imagine, end up needing emergency housing. The need for foster families trained to help these kids is ever present.

Youth Dynamics is a non-profit organization operating across Montana. Katie Gerten works out of the Kalispell office licensing people to be foster parents. She said in the past six months she’s has about 20 children referred to her office to be placed in foster care that she had to turn down. She said it’s hard to find people up for becoming foster parents.

“The biggest thing that I hear is that people are afraid of having a child in their home, they don’t know how it’s going to work out with their family, or the biggest one is; I’m not ready yet,” Gerten said.

Youth Dynamics specializes in Therapeutic Foster Care.  Therapeutic Foster Care, or TFC, also involves therapy, support aids for caregivers, medication management, and respite services for parents and caregivers. Children will generally get involved with Youth Dynamics through referral, sometimes from a state agency like Child Protective Services. They will also get involved as a sort of stepping stone coming out of a shelter or group home.

Gerten says often a child needs the special care, but it isn’t available for them. She says this isn’t unique to Youth Dynamics, all the child welfare agencies spend time scrambling to find placements for kids.

“I used to work as a case manager here, as well as licensing coordinator, and it broke my heart to have to refer kids to shelters, or just have to turn down placement for kids coming out of group homes, and they really had nowhere to go,” Gerten said sometimes there’s an issue with kids or teens who are in trouble for sexual assault. She says oftentimes these cases stem from abuse that child received. Sometimes the child has mental health issues, and needs to learn basic coping skills.

“We let parents look at their records before they take on the child, because we want the placement to work. We want them to know what they’re getting into. But if you look at a child’s progress notes, their treatment plan, you’re looking at all the problems of that child. We don’t document positive things in an incident report, we just don’t, and, it can be scary,” Gerten said.

Foster parent Carla Hunt has been involved with Youth Dynamics since last spring. Hunt also has a son, just about to enter his teenaged years. She said there’s always a nervousness before a child comes into her home.

“I get a little nervous because I don’t know how they’re going to react, and how they’re going to get along with everybody in the house. But, usually… it always ends up OK, but getting to know new kids, and trying to figure out what they like to do, and they don’t like to do, and if they’re going to get along with my son,” Hunt said.

She said it’s a little different approach with setting rules for foster kids, than for her own.

“You have to treat them, I don’t know- softer – than your own kid, because they’ve been through a lot, and your kid has more structure and has had a, you know, a better environment to live in, and these kids haven’t. So, you have to be lenient, but you have to be firm,” Hunt said she got involved because she saw an ad in the paper asking for people to help with respite care.

She did the training, and then did more training to become a foster parent.

“There’s horror stories to everything, and there’s happy endings too. You have to jump in and try and see if you can help one of these kids. That’s why my husband and I got involved, to see if we could help children who don’t have stable environments,” Hunt said.

Gerten said there are 17 hours of training involved with respite care, and 30 for foster care. There’s also a criminal history check through fingerprinting, a child and family services check, department of motor vehicles check, employment, and they also look at other life issues like have had, or lost a child recently.

However, she said if something happened in your past, that doesn’t necessarily exclude you, she said they’re not looking for “perfect” people, rather people who can provide a safe home.

“A lot of these kids come from pretty unstable, horrific environments. Your home is going to be wonderful to them, I guarantee it!” Gerten said.

Some of the other foster care options in the Flathead include through the local branch of Intermountain Children’s Home, and the state. Gerten said if there’s no placement for a child, they’ll go to a shelter or group home, and lots of the time that’s at Watson’s Children’s Shelter in Missoula, Shodair Children’s Hospital in Helena, or Acadia in Butte.

Gerten said she currently has 8 foster parents on her list, and she’s in the process of licensing 3 right now. She said she’d feel comfortable if she had 40 homes on her list in the Flathead.

Statewide the statistic is that about 3,000 kids will enter the foster care system each year. That’s new children going into the system, just in Montana.