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South Dakota plans ad campaign to find more foster parents

August 21, 2012


South Dakota's child protection program is planning an advertising campaign to recruit more foster parents for children with particular needs.

The Department of Social Services has requested that companies submit proposals to develop a campaign that would feature first lady Linda Daugaard as its spokesperson. The state would spend up to $150,000 on ads targeted at recruiting foster parents to care for Native American children, teenagers, siblings or those with medical problems.

The ads would be targeted at Sioux Falls, Rapid City, Eagle Butte and Mission, identified as areas that need foster parents.

Virgena Wieseler, director of the state Division of Child Protection, said South Dakota now has about 700 foster homes for the approximately 1,000 children in foster care at any one time. She said it's hard to find foster families in general, but tougher to find those who can care for a child with medical problems or other special needs.

"It's about matching the needs of the child with the strength of the family. We have to meet the individual needs of the kids," Wieseler said.

But Richard Wexler, director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, which seeks to reduce the number of children unnecessarily placed in foster care, said the state's recruitment effort is "nonsense."

"South Dakota does not have too few foster parents. South Dakota has too many foster children," Wexler said. "If South Dakota stopped tearing apart families at one of the highest rates in the country, there would be plenty of room in good, safe foster homes for all the children in South Dakota who really need it."

Wieseler said the agency has to find foster homes when law enforcement agencies or judges determine children need to be removed from their homes, which happens mainly for their safety.

Presto residents Jan and Bob Fuller have fostered more than 200 infants over the past 40 years. She believes there is always a need for more foster parents, and doesn't think South Dakota puts too many children in foster care.

"To put those children at risk and leave them in the home to me is totally wrong," said Fuller, 64. "I'd rather see them removed and get those issues resolved and then return them as quickly as possible."

Fuller said the state sets a limit of six children per home _ including the foster parents' biological children _ and no more than two children can be under the age of two.

She also said that children sometimes have to stay in foster care for months, even years, because it can take that long for parents to resolve problems with substance abuse or other issues.

The average South Dakota child stays in foster care for just under 14 months, according to state officials.

The Division of Child Protection recently reported the number of children in foster care dropped from 1,704 in 2005 to 1,404 in 2011. The 17 percent drop is partly due to expanded support for troubled families and more placements with extended family members, Wieseler said.

Wexler said South Dakota should pay attention to a three-part National Public Radio series that aired last year, which said South Dakota has routinely broken the Indian Child Welfare Act and disrupted the lives of Native American families. Federal law requires that Native American children removed from their homes be placed with relatives or put in foster care with other Native American families, except in unusual circumstances.

The NPR report said 90 percent of the Native American children removed from their homes in South Dakota each year are sent to foster care in non-Indian homes or group homes. It also reported that Native American children are placed in the foster care system at a disproportionate rate _ only 15 percent of children in South Dakota are Native American, but half the children in foster care are Native American.

State officials have criticized the NPR report as inaccurate, unfair and biased.

They have said that while a disproportionate number of Native American children are in the child welfare system, that's because the state receives more referrals for alleged abuse and neglect involving Native American children. State officials also said they use all available Native American foster homes.

Wieseler said the state first tries to place children with relatives. If that isn't possible, officials look for foster homes in a child's community to maintain contract with family members, friends and schools, she said.

"We don't remove children. That's a court function. That's a law enforcement function. Then we're called to respond to find a replacement," Wieseler said.

Wexler said child protection officials in most states say that, but child protection agents are involved in the decision to remove a child.

"The best appropriate foster care for a great many South Dakota foster children is no foster care," he said.



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