“Pine County foster parents are amazing,” said Pine County Health and Human Services Director Becky Foss as she addressed the state of foster care in the county.

Foss spoke to the public and county commissioners at a committee of the whole meeting on May 28 at the North Pine Government Center (NPGC). This was the first meeting held at the new county facility located in Sandstone.

Foss said that as of Jan. 30 of this year, Pine County had 35 licensed foster care homes with 87 placements in 2018, which is down from 98 placements in 2017. Currently, as of May 20, there were 76 placements (45 of those placements included children who fell under the provisions of the Indian Child Welfare Act, with 38 of those 45 placements being overseen by tribal court).

The main foster care goals for the department are to:

• Keep children in their own home whenever possible (bad parents exist; intervention is necessary when it is unsafe).

• Seek out relatives for children in foster care (required by law, and most often in the best interest of the children).

• When children are placed into foster care, reunification is a primary goal.

• Find a permanent home for children who cannot return to their caregivers, with relatives if possible.

• Support foster parents.

Foss also emphasized the role and importance of foster parenting. She said the main role is to provide a safe, nurturing home for children who have had trauma and suffered adverse childhood experiences. Another role is to build relationships with traumatized children, along with their parents, and be part of the child’s “team” of people. Communicating with the child’s team (biological parents, social workers, psychologists, school personnel, etc.) is also a role of the foster parent.

Parenting traumatized children

Foss said that foster parenting can be rewarding but can also be very difficult.  Children with early childhood trauma, having traumatic experiences from ages birth to 6, can experience so much stress that the brain is altered which increases the risk of lifelong health and social problems. Most of the trauma that children in foster care experience occurs early in their lives, before they enter foster care, and being separated from primary caregivers, no matter how unsafe, exposes children to another trauma.

The types of trauma they typically see include physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, physical neglect, emotional neglect, mother treated violently, substance misuse within the household, household mental illness, parental separation or divorce and having an incarcerated household member.

The effects of complex trauma on kids can include: emotional dysregulation and mental health disorders; loss of a safe base, attachment disorders and poor boundaries; inability to detect or respond to danger cues (always in fight or flight mode); aggression (conflict with peers and adults); cognitive/developmental delays; hoarding; and poor sexual health (vulnerability).

For kids to heal, the impact of trauma on their health and well-being must be addressed. This is where counseling for the foster child and education for the foster parent comes into play. Foss said that education and training are very important, and that a foster parent cannot use the same parenting with foster children as with their own children.

Relationships, relationships, relationships

Foss said, “It’s about providing a safe, predictable, nurturing home environment, and sometimes it gets worse before it gets better.” She added that it is difficult for the child to unlearn the trauma they’ve had. “What you know to be normal, a child will test and test because they are seeing if they can trust you and count on you.”

She said to not take the child’s difficulties personally. “Your child’s struggles are a result of the trauma he or she experienced; they are not a sign of your failure as a parent,” said Foss. “If you have experienced trauma, focus on your own healing and health separate from the child. Seek help and support.”

Getting started

Becoming a foster parent can take up to six months, and there are basic requirements of foster parents. The physical residence must meet licensing requirements. A home safety checklist will be performed and separate sleeping space for foster children is required. A foster parent must be 21 years old and pass a background check and complete a physical. There is also some training required, both initial and ongoing. Any pets in the home need to be up-to-date on rabies shots.

If you or someone you know is interested in becoming a foster parent, they can call Bonnie at 320-591-1581 and ask to sign up for a child foster care orientation session which are scheduled every other month.

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