(May 15, 2015) There are many types of services provided to children by the Worcester County Department of Social Services and many local children need every kind – and then some.
Just 21 homes, with one more coming online before July 1, are available to provide temporary or foster care to the 28 children and young adults currently in the system. Geography counts, especially in Worcester County, because the troubles that could lead a family to avail themselves of foster options are universal, according to Jami Truitt of Worcester County Social Services said. Cities and towns within Worcester are not, Truitt said, using the differences between Ocean Pines and Girdletree as an example.
“My pie in the sky is there is a home on every block in every neighborhood that has been licensed to foster children,” she said.
As it is, besides parents and extended family members, Truitt said social services would explore “fictive” bonds between people, in order to retain a measure of stability in an unstable time. A coach, friend’s parent or close neighbor could potentially step in as a foster parent to preserve school attendance, social circles and as much of a daily routine as possible, Truitt said.
Respite care is a short-term break from the family situation — whatever that may be — with a fixed end date in mind. Short- or long-term placement in a resource home (the new name for what has been considered a “foster home,”) either with or without an adoption option is also possible. All three require the same basic steps for certification, Truitt said.
The first step is to attend an informational meeting in Worcester, Somerset or Wicomico counties. These three counties share resources and personnel when it comes to foster or adoptive care services, so residents of one may use facilities of another in many cases.
The meetings are held on Tuesdays each month between 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. Somerset’s is held on the first Tuesday at the Princess Anne Library, Wicomico’s is on the third Tuesday at the Wicomico Library and Worcester’s is on the fourth Tuesday at the Market Square One Stop in Snow Hill.
After the meeting, 27 hours of instruction are required, called the Parents Resource for Information Development and Education (PRIDE). Spouses and significant others are required to attend all sessions, with a small allowance for absences.
Next, a home assessment involving home visits, income verification and other administrative steps will need to be completed. Passing that, the final step is for the prospective parents to decide which type of care they are suited to: foster, respite or adoptive. The process for becoming each is identical.
The requirements are admittedly stiff, but Truitt said the rewards are potentially greater.
“A lot of people shy away from the time commitment to get licensed, and the changes after you become licensed, social workers become part of your life, for example; but parent’s with kids already know what’s going on. It’s difficult but absolutely worthy work,” she said.
Each child in the system has two concurrent plans in place. The first is a reunification plan for the child to return to his or her birth parents and is required by federal law, Truitt said. The next plan is to navigate that child through the foster system, and is tailored to the individual needs of the situation. Worcester is in particular need of homes willing to accommodate siblings and young adults.
Social services is reluctant to break up siblings, Truitt said, because it doesn’t intend to add trauma to an already challenging situation. More parents and homes that are able to make this sort of accommodation are always in high demand, Truitt said.
“Who doesn’t love a teen? I love our teenagers. One thing a teen will do that a small child can’t is tell you what they’re thinking or what they need. You may not always want to hear what they have to say but they will tell you,” Truitt said.
Families in Worcester, Truitt said, tend to shy away from teens or older children.
“It’s a difficult time but we all live through it,” she said.
Often, Truitt explained, it is the teens who are most likely to be placed outside of Worcester and therefore separated from both the school they’re attending and their friends.
Teenagers can become emancipated from the system at the age of 18, but Maryland allows interested young adults to remain in the system until they turn 21. Foster parents may keep their doors open much longer than that if they so choose.
Foster parents are provided with a monthly stipend intended as a reimbursement for things a child would need.
“Some kids come with packed suitcases, some come with the clothes on their backs,” Truitt said.
The current monthly stipend is $835 per month per child.
For more information call the Worcester County Department of Social Services at 410.677.6800.