CLAREMONT — It's not enough that Mom OD'ed or that Gran went to the hospital or Dad went to prison. It's not enough that there's no one left at home to care for them, or that home isn't safe. When children end up in the foster care system, there aren't enough local families to take them, so they often end up moving hours away from everything and everyone they know.
“With the opioid crisis and the current dynamics and the lack of resources, children are being displaced from their homes at an alarming rate,” said Kaitlin Bartley. Bartley appealed to the joint City Council/School Board meeting last week, asking adults in the community to help out any way they can. The Family Resource Worker at Claremont for the Division of Children Youth and Families said DCYF has to remove children from their homes “weekly if not daily.”
However, in Claremont she has only 29 licensed homes that are OK to foster children, and they're full. This year to date there are 60 children in the Claremont district (that includes Sullivan and lower Grafton counties) in DCYF care.
Children who are removed from their homes in Claremont, she said, are having to be moved out of the district entirely — away from friends, their schools and other relatives.
“We need specialized homes — we really need any homes,” she said. “But we need homes that are trauma-informed, homes that are able to take on these kids that have had so much trauma and so much neglect that they can't even go to a regular school.”
One three-year-old, she said, is functioning at a nine-month-old level, and because they haven't found a family willing or able to take the child, the child is in an institution. A pair of older siblings have been in a residential home for five years, who “look really bad on paper” but the issue that put them there was due to lack of adult supervision, said Bartley.
“It's my job, but I really feel like it's all our jobs,” said Bartley. She urged everyone to get involved and help, even if just by putting up posters, or asking people. One thing people can do is offer respite, which is to take kids for a weekend or a day to give their caregivers a break.
“That can make the difference whether the placement succeeds,” she said. “Even if people can be qualified for respite, that helps the burden quite a bit.”
Adolescents and young adults who have been displaced from their families can use a helpful adult, someone to call when they need to change the oil, or when Thanksgiving comes. Fundraising and donations of clean clothing are also needed.
“I've had to take kids naked to the hospital to get decontaminated from meth,” she said. “I don't know why this is my thing, but clean packs of underwear, pajamas; even just a pajama drive would be great. Duffle bags, because often when we have to take them in an emergency the kids don't have anything.”
New Claremont School Board member Heather Whitney asked if Bartley could give some numbers describing the increased need for foster care. Bartley said she didn't know, percentage-wise.
“I know when I started here we had 30 homes,” said Bartley. “We would take a kid into care, we would call down our list and we would place them in our communities. Since I've been in this position, over two years now, I've never been able to do that. I've gotten new homes, but they've filled very quickly.”
Throughout the state, 1,452 kids are in foster care. The state raised reimbursement rates for foster families in 2018, from a range of $16.59 — $27.74 per day (depending on the child's age and need for care) to a range of $21.84 — $35.78. Respite care is also reimbursed.
Claremont Mayor Charlene Lovett asked, “If they're Claremont children needing foster care, and they're sent out of district, is the school district on the hook for that?”
Frank Sprague, chair of the school board, said, “Yes. Technically, they're homeless.”
“So beyond the emotional impact there's the economic impact on the community of too many children in foster care,” said Lovett.
Residential care for children can cost around $200,000 per year per child.
Bartley encouraged people to call and help out. “As passionate as I am about this, I don't have enough beds in my house,” she said.
She can be reached at (603) 543-4685.
Correction: Claremont school board member Heather Whitney's name has been corrected. We apologize for the error.