There is a need for foster families in southwest Kansas, and one area foster care official believes much of the shortage is driven by misconceptions about foster care.

Julie Dinkel, foster care homes recruiter with Saint Francis Community Services, said there are currently 102 Finney County children in foster care, but 48 of those children were placed in other foster families in other southwest Kansas counties.

She said the goal is to keep foster children as close to their home communities as possible to prevent them from experiencing any further trauma, but the need sometimes outweighs that goal.

According to Dinkel, the need for foster families in the area is driven, at least in part, by misconceptions people have about foster care, one of which has to do with choice.

“I don’t think people understand that they can decide the types of children they want,” Dinkel said. “A lot of people shy away from it because they don’t want teenagers or kids with behavior problems. But what we try to do is let foster parents, when they get licensed, decide what type of child is best for their family.”

She said people also mistakenly assume that they have to provide long-term care to foster children, but Dinkel said there are foster parents who participate in respite or emergency care, which is short-term.

Respite care allows the permanent foster family to take a break while the respite care provider takes care of the foster child, over a weekend, for instance.

Emergency care providers, she said, are people who provide care for children in need of a temporary place to stay while a permanent foster family placement is sought.

Dinkel said the state of Kansas requires foster parents to be licensed, which involves a 10-week course and extensive background checks.

Foster parents must also earn an income, she said.

“We have people who call us who are unemployed and they want to foster. In Kansas, you have to have some other type of income,” she said, adding that foster families receive a stipend from the state for foster children in their care.

The other reason there is a need for foster families is a happy one, Dinkel said.

“If children who are in their foster parents’ home can’t be reintegrated back into their biological families, a lot of times, the foster parents end up adopting the children,” she said, adding that the foster families in those cases typically close their homes to additional foster children. “That’s a good thing, but it means we constantly have to recruit new families.”

For more information about foster care in southwest Kansas, contact St. Francis Community Services at (620) 276-4482.