In January, 95 children in Ellis County needed foster homes. But the number of needed homes fell short; 26 of those children had to be placed outside of the county.

That’s the report from Kylee Childs, foster care home recruitment supervisor for Saint Francis Ministries, which has offices in a number of Kansas communities, including Hays.

“We need about 15 more foster care homes in Ellis County, Childs said, and she is urging more individuals to explore that possibility. The agency tries to keep sibling groups together.

According to the Saint Francis website, “approximately 678,000 children were found to be victims of child abuse or neglect in the U.S. last year. Children are most often abused or neglected in families dealing with serious stressors that can include poverty, unemployment, and substance use.”

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, which, according to the website, “is set aside to raise awareness about child abuse and to promote the physical and emotional well‐being of children and families in safe, stable, and nurturing environments. That responsibility has become even more acute during this pandemic when so many families are home alone together, isolated and often invisible to their neighbors. “

Pamela Cornwell, the agency’s clinical director, said, “This is a particularly dangerous time because many of the ‘respite’ options, such as school and work, are not available to parents and children. This can create tension and pressure in the home.

“The less children are in the public eye, the less we are able to identify children who may be at risk,” Cornwell said.

She identified “at risk families” as those who are not able to appropriately care for their children’s physical needs, including food, clothing and shelter; medical needs; and social and emotional needs.

Childs said the greatest needs in foster homes presently are those that provide emergency and respite placements.

Emergency placements are for children who may have behavioral issues because they have come from severe trauma situations, or police may have responded to a call and have removed the child from its home. Emergency placements are for a minimum of 24 hours up to four days, Childs said.

Respite placements are those that give foster parents planned time off for rest and renewal. These are for a longer period of time, perhaps around two weeks, Childs said.

The other two types of placements are long-term care and foster-to-adopt placements.

Long-term care is one to two years, with the goal of “reintegrating” the child into his or her home. With foster-to-adopt placements, the goal of the foster family is to adopt the child, Childs said.

Foster children range in age from newborn to 22 years.

According to the agency’s website, in order to qualify as a foster parent, an individual must:

Be 21 years of age or older.
Take 30 hours of pre-service training.
Pass criminal and child welfare clearance checks.
Have a source of income other than foster care reimbursement.
Own or rent a residence that meets all state requirements, and
Be willing to work as part of a professional team.

Childs said that while in the past, much of the training was done in-person, with the social-distancing requirements currently in place, the training is now done online.

Prospective foster parents must be able to attend a virtual meeting once a week for seven weeks, in addition to other online training, she said.

Training is a component of the licensing requirement. Prospective foster parents work with a license specialist to complete the process. That takes, on average, six months. Childs said the agency is working with the Kansas Department of Children and Families, which is modifying some of its requirements so they can be completed online.

Clinical Director Cornwell said, “Saint Francis has an entire department devoted to recruitment and support for foster families.”

Those wanting more information about becoming a foster parent and the services Saint Francis provides can go to its website, or call (866) 999-1599.

Childs said regarding the need in Ellis County, “We have a lot of kids needing placement, and we don’t want those kids sleeping in offices.”

While that happened more often in the past, “we have worked very hard to make sure that doesn’t happen now,” Morgan Rothenberger, director of marketing and communications, said.

Cornwell added, “We have made a commitment to keep a child safe, and that means a safe bed every night.”