WORTHINGTON - Each year since 1988, the month of May has drawn attention to the nation’s foster care programs - from the people who give of their time to parent a child in need to the continued need for people willing to open their home and help.

Across the state, there is a desperate need for foster parents, notes Minnesota Department of Human Services Commissioner Emily Piper. In the past three years, the number of children in the state’s foster care system on an average day has increased by 51 percent, from approximately 6,200 in 2013 to 9,400 in 2016.

In Nobles County, Family and Children’s Social Services Supervisor Krysta Anderson said she can always use more foster parents. She currently has 12 homes licensed to take in children in a foster setting, with 14 children now living in a foster home within Nobles County.

The number of children needing foster placement ebbs and flows, said Anderson, noting that some children may need emergency placement for just a couple of nights, while others can be in the system for months or years.

While more than 90 percent of the children that enter foster care in Nobles County eventually return to their families, Anderson said there have been more terminations of parental rights in the last couple of years. The termination is a decision made by the courts system. At Nobles County Community Services, the individual who licenses individuals for foster care also serves as an adoption worker.

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The county’s foster families hail from both city and rural areas, from Adrian to Wilmont, Iona and Worthington. They take turns being on-call each week, and are prepared to welcome a child or children into their home any time of the day or night.

“We do have some kids that are placed in foster homes in other counties as well,” shared Anderson. “It’s because those families had indicated they wanted to be considered pre-adoptive families. If a child isn’t safe to be returned home to a parent ... they would move on to a foster home with the intent they would be adopted there.”

In cases where there is more than one child placed in foster care, Anderson said everything possible is done to keep sibling groups together. Nobles County Community Services also wants to keep children in the same school district if they are enrolled in school, and wants the placement to be near the child’s family so relationships can continue.

“We want to keep as many things the same in their life as we can so it’s not so disruptive,” Anderson said. “We don’t want children placed away from their families any longer than they need to be.

“Foster care is meant to be a temporary living environment so a child can be safe while their parents are getting things in order, making it safer for that kid to come back home,” she added.

“If someone is going to be a foster parent, we want to make sure the placement is comfortable for them and the child,” Anderson said. Some foster parents may have a preference - or may have a home set up to care only for infants, or to take in older children - but most don’t have a preference.

The first step is to contact Nobles County Community Services, either by stopping by the office on the second floor of the Nobles County Government Center, or by calling 295-5213. The office has packets of information available, including an application. Once an application is completed, Anderson said someone will meet with the individual or couple. There is a six-hour orientation training with the licensor, along with mental health training, a background study and an in-home interview with the licensor.

“They can be single, they don’t have to have any kids,” Anderson noted of being a foster parent. “We have a couple (of foster parents) right now that are single-parent homes with no other children, and we’ve had some couples that weren’t married and lived together and that was fine.”

Anderson said if every step goes smoothly, it’s about a three- to four-month process for a foster parent to become licensed. The licensor determines what a foster parent’s licensing capacity is based on the home, as each child will need his or her own space to sleep and to keep clothing and belongings.

While there is a need for all types of foster families, Anderson said there’s a particular need for people who are bilingual.

“It would be wonderful if we found more culturally diverse foster families,” she added.

Once foster parents are licensed, they need to complete ongoing training requirements and maintain their licensure.

Foster parents receive assistance to help cover costs of food, clothing, school supplies and other necessities for the children placed in their care.

“Sometimes the kids that go into foster care, they’re not able to bring many things from the home they were removed from,” Anderson said. The agency provides foster care bags for children, which include a blanket, pajamas, toothbrush, toothpaste, stuffed animals, deodorant or other items depending on the age and gender of the child. All of the items distributed are donated by local individuals, church groups and organizations.

“We’re very fortunate that groups or individuals just do this,” Anderson said. “It is nice so the kids have their own stuff.”

Anderson said local foster families find their work very rewarding.

“They enjoy doing it,” she said. “It is hard sometimes when the kids return home, but they’re happy for them.

“We really appreciate our foster families,” she added. “We need foster families and we’re really lucky there are so many nice, loving families in Nobles County that are willing to help out children.”