"Foster familes: Island has more than most, but still needs more"

"Whidbey Island is blessed with many good foster parents, said Jan Stettler, a social worker for the state's Department of Children and Family Services. But the need for more families is great and growing.Stettler is one of three child caseworkers on Whidbey and she currently has 40 children under her watch. About 30 of them are already placed with foster families. She said the large caseload is almost unmanageable.The kids have come from family situations were they have been seriously physically or sexually abused, or neglected to the point of imminent danger. By law, the state must intervene in such situations and get the kids to safety. After that, it's a sometimes long process of creating a stable situation in the parents' home so that the kids can be returned.That's the goal from the beginning, said Stettler. The majority of foster children are eventually reunited with their biological parents. Only about 5 to 10 percent of cases lead to legal termination of parental rights. In all, Stettler said there are 83 Whidbey children currently in foster care. They are spread out in 45 foster families in groups of from one to six kids. She said the local Children and Family Services office finds home placement for nearly every island child who enters the foster care system.That's not the case elsewhere in the state.We have 2,210 children who are legally free for adoption and have no permanent home, said Darlene Flowers, the executive director of the Foster Parents Association of Washington State. She said these kids are in a sort of holding pattern waiting for something to happen.Flowers said there is a shortage of trained families willing to take in foster children and because of the pressures of the job and the moderate-at-best pay, retention of foster parents is an increasing problem.At the same time, she said the children entering the system today have more serious needs than kids of decades past.Stettler said Whidbey has a pretty strong community of foster parents - some of whom have been involved for more than 15 years.I think we have the advantage of being a smaller community. We don't seem to have a big turnover here, she said.Flowers described what it takes to be a good foster parent.It needs to be people who understand where these people come from and understand how important their biological family is to them, she said. It's also plain people who love kids and enjoy a challenge ... and are able to work with the system."

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