Renee Fitts, statewide recruitment manager for the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department, discusses foster parent training Monday at the CYFD office in Roswell. (Randal Seyler Photo)
Chaves County needs foster families for local children, and potential foster parents can come to an informational meeting today, said Renee Fitts, statewide recruitment manager for the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department.
There will be an informational meeting at 6 p.m. today at the CYFD office, located at No. 4 Grand Avenue Plaza in Roswell, Fitts said.
The meeting will provide families with information about foster and adoptive parenting, and is for anyone interested in becoming a licensed foster and/or adoptive parent with the CYFD.
“There are about 80 children in Chaves County in need of foster homes,” said Fitts, who works out of the Roswell CYFD office. “The age group 6 to 14 is the biggest group we have in need of homes, with 29 children in that age group.”
There are 25 children aged 0-2 needing foster homes, and 18 children aged 3-5 in need of foster homes. The smallest age group is 15-17, with eight children waiting for homes.
As of January 2014, there were close to 2,000 New Mexico children in foster care.
“When we don’t have enough homes in Chaves County, then we have to move these children to where there is an available home,” Fitts said. “We try to stay within the Chaves, Eddy counties area, but sometimes we don’t have a choice.”
When children are placed outside of the county, it not only affects the ability of the children to visit with their birth families, it also means the case workers are traveling far and wide keeping in touch with the children.
“Our goal is re-unification with the birth families when that is possible, and we try to keep siblings together whenever possible,” Fitts said.
However, having a shortage of foster homes in Chaves County means families and siblings are sometimes separated.
“Not only does it mean we are taking these children from their families, we are also taking them from their friends, their school they love — even the cafeteria lady who gives them extra cookies,” Fitts said.
Often, the children are already dealing with traumatic events in their lives, and the extra stress of separation from their family and friends just aggravates the situation.
Typically, it takes 4-6 months to be certified as a foster family, Fitts said, and the training is held during four Saturday meetings. The first session for 2014 wraps up this Saturday, and the next cycle of training begins on April 26.
The training consists of two back-to-back Saturday classroom training sessions followed by an “on the job training” weekend where potential foster families get to interact with children, Fitts said.
“It gives the families a chance to see what age groups might be most suited to their homes for fostering,” she explained.
Foster families can be single, married or cohabitating or same-sex couples, Fitts said. Potential foster families have to be able to pass a federal/state/local background check and an abuse and neglect check, and must also be willing to participate in a free SAFE home study.
The home study includes family interviews, home safety check and reference checks, Fitts said.
It can be a process lasting between four and six months for the foster families to be certified, Fitts said. Foster parents also have to be legal residents of the U.S.
“We still have plenty of work to do when it comes to finding families for children in foster care,” said Gov. Susana Martinez in a news release on Friday.
“Regardless of the age of these children or the fact that sibling groups are in need of one home, it is a driving goal for (CYFD Cabinet Secretary Yolanda) Deines and New Mexico’s child welfare professionals to find all of these children forever families.”
“When you see the children succeed, and you see them learn the tools they need to be successful adults, that is what really makes my job special,” Fitts said. “Children need all the love they can get, and if they have love coming in from not only their birth family, but from a foster family too, how can you go wrong with that?”