STATEWIDE – Maine officials say there’s a need for foster family homes in Maine. In this series, we break down the process of becoming a foster parent and why so many children are in foster care.
“Children are coming from tough situations. The state typically isn’t getting involved because there’s nothing going on,” said Travis Bryant, executive director of Adoptive and Foster Families of Maine Inc. and the Kinship Program.
According to the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, there is a need for foster homes in the state.
Data shows numbers fluctuating during the last five years. In fact, as of the end of February, there were 1,960 children in foster care across the state. Still, at that same time, there were 1,358 foster homes.
“Foster care is one of those areas and a need that’s always ongoing. And there could never be enough homes,” said Bryant.
DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew said kids go into foster care for a variety of reasons. She also said the state’s opioid crisis is a contributing factor.
“Kids are coming into custody to the department on a regular basis … Sometimes these kids need to be moved immediately and to be placed somewhere,” said Bryant.
Foster parenting is something both Lauri Legere and her husband Jeff said was their calling and began in 1997.
“It first started with an ad in the paper,” said Lauri. “Open your heart, open your home … and so I took the ad to my husband and said, ‘We really need to do this,'” she said.
Becoming a foster family begins with a phone call to DHHS.
“Once you sign up for an informational meeting, they supply you with a package and that’s your application,” said Bryant.
Once a lengthy process, licensing now takes only 120 days. It does, however, include several steps.
“There’s a fire inspection, there’s home studies, there’s water testing, fingerprinting. There’s mandatory training,” said Legere.
Bryant said the home inspection is held to a high standard.
“Replacing new windows in some of these older homes we have in Maine can be a barrier for folks and it can be pretty costly,” he said.
Once a family receives a license, they can get a call about a child in need at any time. How long a child remains in foster care depends on the case.
“Reunification can happen two months after having the child or it can be longer,” said Legere.
Taking care of a foster child brings certain responsibilities.
“You get a stipend … that just assists in their care and what they need. There are things you re going to have to pay for,” Legere said.
The Legeres have adopted six of the 20 children they have brought into their home. They said they have given up their license for now but that it was something they were happy to be a part of while they did it.
“Does it hurt? Absolutely. Do you cry a lot, you know? Absolutely. But the child is with their family and that’s really what we’re all working towards,” said Legere.
In the next part of the series “The Foster System: A need for families in Maine,” we meet one woman who says the foster system saved her life.