A few weeks ago, the Seattle Times published an article in their “Project Homelessness” section illustrating the problem our foster care system is facing with a lack of foster homes to place children in. According to a report released from the Washington Family and Children’s Ombuds, in King and a few northern counties, the overall nights that foster children had to spend in hotels was more than 1,000 in the year between Sep 2017 and Aug 2018! Our state has been dealing with a severe shortage of foster homes and therapeutic homes for the past few years. However, with the number of foster parents declining, while the amount of children taken into care increases, “there has been nearly a tenfold increase in [hotel] stays since 2015,” says the article. It goes onto say, “During that time, a 16-year old girl spent 67 days in a hotel before going to an out-of-state group care facility.”
According to the Seattle Times, not only do children have to spend the night at hotels, they often spend hours during the day “sitting around state offices, where they stole scissors and letter openers, or disappeared.” This requires social workers to spend time supervising these children that they would normally have use to find them a suitable foster home.
A few years ago, UGM’s Foster Support Faith Alliance partnered with Office Moms and Dads, a non-profit volunteer organization that provides volunteers to supervise and care for children in the state office, while they’re awaiting foster home placement. The FSFA has since helped to start/ staff the program in 5 of our local child welfare offices, but are in need of more volunteers for every office.
Says one of our veteran volunteers, Rosemary Kneeling, “My husband and I have been volunteering in the OMD program since it began. It has been a very enjoyable experience, sometimes challenging and always worthwhile. Every hour we can spend with a child is an hour that the Social Worker can spend locating a good home for that child; greatly reducing the number of nights spent sleeping in a hotel.”
This is a low-pressure volunteer opportunity. Rosemary writes, “we do not have to commit to any specific time or day; when we receive a text letting us know about a need, we respond only if we are available. This has been an easy and rewarding volunteer activity.”
Not only does the Office Moms and Dads program help child welfare staff to do their jobs effectively, it also provides comfort and encouragement to children during what is likely a traumatic experience. Our hope is also that as our churches work to recruit more OMD volunteers, they will also be planting the seed within their congregation members to look into becoming licensed foster parents… and potentially help to make nights in hotels a thing of the past.