There is a shortage of approximately 40 foster homes in Ellis County and the surrounding region, and the need only seems to keep intensifying. 

That was the message officials with St. Francis Community Services shared during a community forum Monday evening at Trinity Lutheran Church in Hays. The event was geared toward those who are interested in becoming foster or adoptive parents, but the agency is challenging residents statewide to step up and help however they can.

“We unfortunately have had to have some kids sleep in the office, and that’s just not a good thing,” said Marla Baumann, a recruiter in St. Francis’ Kensington office. “That’s why we are so desperate for homes.”

As of March, nearly 90 children in Ellis County alone were in foster care through the agency. Nine of those children were needing adoptive homes, with 44 in foster care. Another 28 children were placed with family or friends, which is always what the agency seeks to do first, Baumann said.

St. Francis has an office in Hays that covers all surrounding counties. That coverage area currently has 49 foster homes — yet there are 63 children placed outside of their home counties because there aren’t enough.

“We actually need 40 more homes just to cover the kids that are in care right now,” she said. “And if they’re coming in 75 a month, there’s just no way we can keep up with getting families trained and licensed and keep going.”

The shortage of local homes sometimes requires social workers to drive children as far as Wichita, dropping them off with a foster family late at night and picking them up early the next morning.

The need for foster care in northwest Kansas is higher than ever. While staff members said they cannot officially prove the reasons why, it could be a result of increased drug use and child in need of care cases.

The agency for years told adoptive parents it was difficult to adopt infants, but the number of very young children entering state custody is also increasing rapidly, said Vicki Cain, a foster care home recruitment specialist based in Salina.

“Honestly within the last year and a half … our demographics for the children’s ages have changed tremendously,” she said. “And I think it’s mainly due to the opioid situation that we’re seeing. But we get a lot of infants in need of care. Some are attached to siblings, and some are not.”

Foster placements can be short-term, such as respite care over a weekend, or for a longer period if there are ongoing court proceedings or if the child is waiting to be adopted.

There also continue to be many older children in need of both foster and adoptive families.

March statistics showed 20 children in Ellis County three years and younger; 18 between the ages of four and six; 27 between the ages of 7 and 12; and eight between the ages of 13 and 15.

There were 14 between the ages of 16 and 22. Older children also have unique needs as they prepare to age out of the foster care system and venture out on their own after finishing school.

A statewide program called Youth Thrive has been expanding services throughout the state to help connect these children with community support after they age out. That agency currently has expanded as far west as Barton County, but likely has plans to grow further, Cain said.

A 10-week education class and extensive background checks are required for those who are interested in becoming foster parents or adopting Kansas children. Another class is expected to begin in June, and those interested can call St. Francis at (785) 625-6651.

Home inspections also are required before a family can begin taking placements. Foster parents must be at least 21 years old and can be married couples or single adults.

There are other ways to help, such as supporting those who choose to foster or adopt and donating supplies or money when a local need arises, Baumann said. An online CarePortal through the Global Orphan Project also was launched in north-central Kansas this spring as a way to connect local churches with children and families in need.

Baumann has first-hand experience as a foster parent — her family fostered about 50 children during a 12-year period.

“It’s not an easy job being a foster parent, but it’s definitely worthwhile,” she said.

“If fostering or adopting is not something that fits your family, please help by spreading the word that children in Hays need foster families — someone to love them, keep them safe and give them hope.”