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There's a nationwide shortage of foster care families

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Foster care homes in America are now in short supply. Many states have reported drops in the number of homes since the beginning of the pandemic. Recruiting foster families has become a priority for systems that include Nevada's, which launched training sessions this week. Kevin Quint is a clinical program manager for Nevada's division of Child and Family Services and joins us now. Thanks so much for being with us.

KEVIN QUINT: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: How steep has the decline been?

QUINT: Well, in 2019, we had about 244 homes in what we call the rural region of Nevada, which is the 15 rural counties of Nevada. And that has gone down to 125 homes, about a 50% decrease.

SIMON: What's happened?

QUINT: Well, lots of things. I'm sure COVID had something to do with it, just people changing their priorities and not sure what to do next. And during the pandemic, our recruitment efforts slowed down just because we couldn't go places or couldn't see people. I think the economy may have had an impact on it. I think another issue I need to mention, by the way, is that in the foster care system, the children we're getting in foster care now are coming in with more higher needs, such as mental health issues and behavioral issues. And that can also be a strain on foster homes as well.

SIMON: Yeah, and I'm going to imagine that mental health issues was just aggravated during the pandemic.

QUINT: Yes.

SIMON: And do I understand it correctly that you have a need for foster parents, especially in rural areas, the - some of the vast expanse of Nevada?

QUINT: Yes, we do because what happens is it's a huge state, and we have 400 miles from north to south, basically. And so if you have a child who's in Elko, which is northeastern Nevada, and they get placed in Pahrump, which is almost to Las Vegas, that's a whole different desert. It's a whole different, you know, landscape. And even culturally, it can be different as well. So we want to have enough homes in every community so that children can stay close to their own home. They can stay close to their school, stay close to their family. And because reunification with their birth parents is our top priority, if that's appropriate, if that's possible, then we want them to be closer to their parents. And when they're hundreds of miles away from their parents, makes it difficult to reunify because visits are hard to arrange, and it's hard to just put all those logistics together.

SIMON: Tell us about your training. What do you do?

QUINT: Well, our training is designed to prepare people for the - just to enter into foster care. We talk about how things work with child welfare, the courts. We talk about children's trauma and help the participants learn skills in working with kids, like, and maybe helping them regulate their emotions, navigate their daily lives, and how to understand the child's behavior.

SIMON: What makes somebody a good foster parent?

QUINT: First is understanding and willing to see the child as being someone who needs to be loved and cared for and then being willing to stay the course with them because trauma and the things that these kids go through are things that don't just go away with a hug and a kiss.

SIMON: What do you tell parents who might be on the fence, who think it's something they might want to do, but they know that in the end, if - even if it's successful, they wind up taking someone into their lives and then having to say goodbye?

QUINT: I love that question because we don't talk about this very often, but we try to remind people in training that we understand that when you have a child in your home for a month, six months, a year or even longer sometimes, it becomes a great bond. And so when children leave, there's a grief process for not only the child but also for the caregiver. That's a big deal because...

SIMON: Yeah.

QUINT: ...There's love there. I didn't mention before, but I was a foster parent also. One thing I learned when I was a foster parent was that a child can't have too many people that love them. That really hit me in the heart, realizing that when the child is gone, you can still be a part of their life. That can be a reality, and that's good for the child, and it's good for the caregiver who gave themselves for that child for all that time. I've heard of, for instance, foster parents having children back in their home after they reunited with their family for sleepovers or for babysitting or for outings or shared vacations. That can happen.

SIMON: What do you say to parents who say, I just don't know if I have the wherewithal, if we have the wherewithal to take a child in?

QUINT: That's something that does get asked sometimes. They do ask that, and they're not sure. And so we say to them, look, you can go to training and if you decide not to, no harm, no foul. Call us later if you want to. If not, that's fine, too.

SIMON: Mr. Quint, have you seen lives saved in your work?

QUINT: Oh, yeah. Yes, yes. I'm so glad you asked that. We have a boy right now in the system who just turned 17, was in probably 10 or 12 placements, and then his dream in life has been to be adopted. We found a person that really fit his needs. He's been there for about a year now. He just turned 17. He's gone from being a poor student and not really engaged and he fought a lot, that kind of thing. He played in the high school basketball team. He has a driver's license, which is quite rare for foster kids. He's doing pretty well in school. He's not an A student, but he's doing OK. He's going to pass high school and be fine. And his foster mom wants to adopt him, and he is thrilled.

Another one I can think of is a 3-year-old boy that - parents had drug problems, and in fact, his mother eventually died from drugs, which is very sad. But he came to a home and didn't have any kind of schedule. He didn't have any - didn't know when to sleep, didn't know how to eat, didn't - he wasn't potty trained, had, like, three or four words he could say. One year at that home, he was able to learn all those things. He's a child that needed to be loved and helped. And he's now with his paternal grandmother in California, and he's 9 years old now. He's doing great. So just I'd say overall, the system really helps give children a chance. It provides children with an opportunity.

SIMON: Yeah. Kevin Quint of the State of Nevada Division of Child and Family Services. Thanks so much for being with us, Mr. Quint.

QUINT: Well, thank you. I really appreciate the opportunity. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.