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County running short on foster care homes

January 21, 2016
By Jimmy McCarthy ( , Westfield Republican

A majority of the 50 to 76 foster care homes in Chautauqua County are either full or on hold, leaving home-finding case workers looking for more families to accept children.

With a fluctuating number of children and teenagers to place, Melissa Emke-Gehling said more foster families are needed. As program supervisor for the foster care teams, Emke-Gehling said having a variety of homes to choose from would be ideal in order to place children based on their needs. However, the county doesn't hold enough options.

"We're very cautious that if homes have maximum numbers, we're making sure that we're helping them," she said. "We have nobody right now with more placements than they should have unless they have a sibling group, which is allowable. In order to keep siblings together, you can go above their maximum number if they're approved."

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A majority of the foster care homes in Chautauqua County are either full or on hold, leaving Christine Galbraith and Kim Gates, home-finding case workers, looking for more families to accept children.

Emke-Gehling said the county is also in need of more Hispanic foster homes. An outreach effort to the Hispanic community has been a struggle, she said.

"If we have a Spanish-speaking family, it's helpful to have someone who understands the culture and can speak the language," she said.

Foster parents who are certified by county staff are authorized for a certain number of children, one to six, and certain age ranges based on interests and assessments. Emke-Gehling said many foster families who come with interests to adopt become dually certified as foster and adoptive parents.

Recently, a staff social worker was hired to assess children, birth families and foster families in an effort to identify strengths and weaknesses of all parties. In the past, the placement was hit or miss. Now, the system has improved to recognize the needs of children and the care foster parents can provide.

"We're being more proactive in gathering information and making sure that the placement is successful," Emke-Gehling said. "Foster families see us a lot. The case managers see the foster child and parent in the home at least once a month. Children in foster care have visitation with their birth parent(s) and we assist with transportation of foster children for visitation. Most foster families see us at least once a week, if not more."

Some placements occur faster than others due to emergency situations, but Emke-Gehling said they work hard to provide as much information as possible to make sure the foster parents and the child are comfortable.

One of the biggest challenges within the foster care program is placing teenagers in homes. Emke-Gehling said many myths surround teenagers in the foster care program, resulting in only a few homes accepting them. However, she said their behaviors are typically no different from any other teenager.

"All they need is stability and attention," she said. "It's teen behavior that needs to be managed. Anybody who is considering it is thinking they're just going to have problems in their homes - they're going to have wild, violent behavior. It's really not the case."

Anyone wishing to inquire about becoming a foster care parent can call the intake department at 661-8212.

"Our foster parents are fantastic," Emke-Gehling said. "We give them a lot of credit because they manage foster care children 24/7. We have very good relationships with them, and our case workers work hard with our foster care families."

G.A. Family Services foster care program also serves families and youth throughout Chautauqua County. The foster care program provides initial training, certification and regular face-to-face contact and support. Additional resources are also provided to assist in the transition of a child entering a home. Weekly in-home contacts offer guidance and support for foster care parents.

For more information about G.A. Family Service's foster care program, call 708-6161. G.A. Family Services is located at 515 W. Fifth St. in Jamestown.



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