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DebraW
11-09-2007, 09:37 PM
Hotels a necessary 'last resort'
Until we find a way to deal with the shortage of foster families, it's the best available alternative

Paula Simons, The Edmonton Journal
Published: September 11, 2007 3:05 am

The Edmonton region's shortage of foster parents is so acute that some children taken into care are now routinely being put up in local hotels and motels.

Rick Semel, the CEO of Edmonton and Area Child and Family Services, can't say how many children are being housed in hotels in any given week, because the numbers fluctuate. Some days, there are as few as two or three children. Other times, it can be 20 or more.

Some apprehended children stay in hotels on an emergency basis only, for a few hours or days, until a family member or a foster home can be found to take care of them. Other times, children are "checked in" for weeks at a time.

The Riverview Inn hotel downtown is one of a half-dozen or so hotels providing temporary accommodation for foster children.

Children taken to hotels, says Semel, are supposed to be kept under the constant 24-hour care and observation of a social worker.

Hotels and motels accepting apprehended children include the Yellowhead Motor Inn, the South Bend Motel, the Travel Lodge South, the Gateway Motel and the former downtown Econo Lodge, which recently changed its name to the Riverview Inn.

"All of a sudden, at the end of May or beginning of June, we started getting a lot," one local motel manager told me. "We're probably providing five rooms per night, or 150 to 200 room nights a month."

Some of those young guests, he says, end up staying for weeks or months at a time.

"It can be a little bit of a challenge," he says. "Some of these kids have been through lots of family problems. It's not easy for the social workers. We've had some little bits of drama, some misbehaviour in the lobby."

Another hotel told me it now only accepts very small children, claiming that poorly supervised older kids damaged hotel rooms or broke into cars in the parkade.

The image of vulnerable children -- from newborns to teens -- being cared for in hotels isn't pleasant.

But right now, Semel sees few other options. "It's the last resort," he says. "It's not the first."

If children are in danger, or being abused, he argues, social workers can't just leave them where they are until a bed in a foster home becomes available.

"A placement in a hotel is not the best thing, of course it's not, but we can't leave children in unsafe situations. They've got to be safe. We just can't leave children in risky home situations."

Eighteen months ago, Semel says, the regional child care authority virtually never had to put the children in its care in hotels. But metro Edmonton's booming population and booming economy have put unique strains on the foster care system.

Between June 2005 and June 2007, the number of children in care in the Edmonton region, which includes Leduc, Strathcona, Parkland and Sturgeon counties, went up by about nine per cent, from 2,974 to 3,235.

(Not all those children were in foster care -- some were in group homes or residential treatment facilities, others were placed with family members.)

Over the same time period, the number of regional foster homes dropped by more than 15 per cent.

The region has been trying to find more foster parents. But the pace of recruitment can't keep up with the pace at which people are quitting.

The hot economy puts a double-sided squeeze on the foster care system. The promise of a new life and easy money attracts struggling families here from across the country and around the world --but when they arrive, they don't always find it easy to cope with the high rents, the high cost of living, the social pressures and social temptations. At the same time, the boom makes it harder to attract and retain good foster parents. In some cases, people who might have had time to take in needy kids are working such long hours they no longer can. In other cases, families who might have fostered to earn more income no longer need the extra cash -- or they can't make ends meet on a foster parent's stipend, and need to seek more conventional employment. Demographics are a factor, too, since many veteran foster parents are now retiring. And it doesn't help that many of today's foster children have extremely demanding medical or behavioural problems, challenges not all new foster parents are trained to deal with.

Meantime, foster parents still in the system are facing increasing pressure to take in more children -- an additional stress to add to the burden they shoulder for the rest of us.

Group homes are under similar pressure. In this job market, it's hard to find and keep staff, when so many other jobs pay more than group home agencies have the budgets to provide.

So putting kids up in hotels becomes the fallback, the ugly necessity -- and not just in the Edmonton region. The North Central child welfare authority, which serves communities such as Hinton, St. Paul and Lac La Biche, and the North East child welfare authority, which serves the Fort McMurray area, have also placed children in hotels, according to the department of Children's Services.

"We're in a crisis situation, the result of years of cutbacks and neglect," says Liberal MLA Weslyn Mather, the party's shadow minister of Children's Services. "We need a big plan, and we need it now."

Putting children, especially children with major behavioural problems, in low-cost hotels, she says, is a band-aid solution that puts kids at risk.

"We need to know our children and youth in care are safe, that they're getting the best possible care. Right now, we're all just holding our breaths, hoping something won't go wrong."

I share Mather's concerns. But I'm still hesitant to come down too hard on the government for putting kids in hotels in the short-term.

Right now, there really aren't any better answers. All the more reason for us to get busy and start finding them -- to rethink the way we compensate foster parents, group home operators, and social workers, to find new strategies to help our neediest children and families.

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THE SEARCH FOR FOSTER PARENTS

- Edmonton and Area Child and Family Services is keen to recruit new foster parents. Starting foster parents are paid a stipend of $12.50 a day, plus a daily living allowance for the children they care for. The allowance for newborns starts at $18.50 day and ranges to $30.50 a day for teenagers.

- There will be several information sessions for prospective foster parents this fall, on Oct. 10, Nov. 14 and Dec. 5. For more information, call 496-3546 or go to www.bemyparents.com

The Edmonton Journal 2007

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DebraW
11-09-2007, 09:40 PM
Information about the Adoption, Foster-to-Adopt, and Foster Care Programs for Edmonton & Area Child & Family Services Region 6.

At the Adoption & Foster Care Recruitment Program we look to find suitable families for children in need.

You do not need to be married or heterosexual to Adopt or Foster.

You do have to be willing to work with special needs children and to accept and welcome support from outside sources. Children in Foster Care may have a little to a lot of contact with their biological families.

You will find that you do not need to look beyond the borders of North America, of Canada, or even of Alberta to find children in need.