New county program finds relations for foster kids

By Josh Ellerbrock -

LIMA — With a new pilot program, Allen County aims to decrease the number of children in foster care by placing them with relations.

Known as 30 Days to Family, the program is designed to match foster children with extended kinship and family circles within 30 days by allowing a specialized case worker to spend the majority of his or her time finding and locating a home that can raise an extra child within those networks.

Since the program’s implementation in May, Program Specialist Natalie Reynolds has worked on a single case of a teenage girl and has been able to identify over 100 individuals within her extended familial and kinship networks. Reynolds said she is close to locating a home for the child.

Reynolds’ work even resulted in bringing the teenager to a family reunion in Chicago. That type of work illustrates to children that they have individuals looking out for their futures, which has been shown through research to create a better outcome for that child than raising them in foster care.

An additional benefit is a potential reduction in the cost of foster care. While foster caretakers are paid a stipend when taking care of children, family relations that adopt the child are not. Instead, social workers will work with that family to ensure it can deal with the additional costs associated with raising a child.

As for Reynolds’ methods in locating family or kin, she will often use a combination of Internet research, outreach and the standard knocking on doors to locate relations. Interviews with located individuals will often create further networks, which are then explored until they are “exhausted.”

“You would be surprised at how much of your personal information is available online,” Reynolds said. “I have become a capable Facebook stalker.”

If the search for a family fails, the program can at least create a network of contacts that can reach out to the child if he or she is put in the foster care system.

“Kids that end up in the system, they do better if they know their family is supporting them,” Allen County Children Services Intake Program Administrator Jenny Knippen said.

Allen County was one of eight counties in Ohio to receive funding for the program. Knippen said the county applied to be a part of the pilot program because of its past victories in placing children with families and because of the major effects the opioid crisis has had in the county, such as overdoses that leave children without parents.

In each case, the program’s goals are to identify at least 80 individuals in each child’s network in 30 days, match a child with a family in 75 percent of cases and locate a backup household in 70 percent of cases.

“There’s no way, without funding from these initiatives, we would be able to do this,” Knippen said.

By Josh Ellerbrock

Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.

Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.

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