Volunteer to Help Idaho’s Vulnerable Youth
By Keith Bryan
A Meridian couple is facing felony charges after police say officers found their children in a house filled with garbage, mildew, and expired food. Four children, who range in age from five months to 12 years old, have been placed in state custody.[i] This home was filled with trash, rotten food, soiled diapers, metal scraps, and other dangerous devices and materials.
It was so filled with filth, officers were unable to find a clear path through the home.[ii] Floors, furniture, and countertops were unusable as filth overran the home. In addition, police said officers detected a strong smell of mildew in the house and found a bottle of bleach on the floor.[iii] These parents put their children in an extremely dangerous environment.
Abuse comes in a variety of ways; severe neglect, physical abuse, and emotional abuse take a toll on the children who deal with abuse in their daily life. We, however, read stories like this and think, “those kids are lucky to be out of that situation.” While the sentiment is accurate, the struggle for the kids continues well beyond being taken from their home. Most times, the kids are scared or angry they’re being removed. What may seem like an obviously bad situation to us, is their reality, all that they know. They do not want to live anywhere else. They want to be with their family.
The Idaho foster care system works hard to place abused children, like those just removed from the Meridian home, together. Those who work to place children don’t like to break up siblings when placing them in foster care. However, sometimes it’s unavoidable. For all the great Idahoans who open their homes to foster children, the need far outweighs the availability of homes. This article will address how child protection and foster care work in Idaho, the need for additional foster care homes, and how Idaho attorneys can help children in need of protection.
How Child Protection & Foster Care Works
The Division of Family and Community Services (FACS) is part of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (IDHW). FACS is responsible for child protection, adoptions and foster care, interstate compact on the placement of children, Indian child welfare, services for persons with developmental disabilities, resource development and eligibility, navigation services and early intervention/screening for infants and toddlers.[iv] The Child and Family Services (CFS) program provides child protection, adoption, foster care, and Native American child welfare services in close collaboration with other FACS Division programs.[v]
These programs reflect the philosophy that a family-centered environment is the best place for children to thrive. Idaho provides many services to foster parents and collects data to help improve these services. Idaho’s Statewide Resource Family Recruitment and Retention activities are contracted through Eastern Washington University (EWU).
Contracted services include resource family recruitment, retention, Parent Resources for Information, Development, and Education (PRIDE) pre-service training, core training, Resource Training & Support Groups, and three annual Resource Family and Social Worker Conferences.[vi] EWU is responsible for the collection, compilation and analysis of data, and the development of reports for management specific to the Resource Parent Mentor (RPM) program.
During Fiscal Year 2017, the number of licensed non-relative and relative resource family homes increased. The need to find and prepare families to foster and adopt children continues to grow. In 2017, Idaho’s foster care system served 2,714 children and 1,502 licensed resource families.[vii] The number of children in the systems has increased: 2,434 kids were in foster care in 2015, 2,559 kids were in foster care in 2016, and 2,714 kids were in foster care in 2017.[viii] As our population continues to grow, the need for foster homes will grow as well. At this point, Idaho does a good job of meeting the foster care needs.
However, the IDHW is spread thin; more foster parent volunteers are needed to help kids adjust to their new realities and new norms. For the kids, being taken from their home can be a scary thing, some of these kids have not been able to trust adults their entire lives, others do not know any better. For most people, the fear of the unknown is real; for a child, that fear is magnified. Either way, it is important that our community rally around the youth of our state.
A Call to Help Children in Need
Not everyone is in a place to open their home to children that need help. But you can be involved in other ways. For example, Family Advocates places guardians ad litem and attorney candidates with new Child Protection cases as the program is appointed. I am personally involved with Family Advocates and am guardian ad litem in a case for two kids.
As a guardian, I speak on behalf of the kids in court. Often, the state has an attorney, the parents are assigned an attorney, but the kids need their voice heard as well. The guardian ad litem program has been very rewarding and ensures these frightened children know that their opinion matters. Their voice is being heard. In Fiscal Year 2019, Family Advocates in Boise had to turn away 30 children’s cases because of a lack of guardian ad litem, attorney to represent or a combination of the two.
Being an attorney in Idaho puts you in an important position to assist the community in tremendous ways. The Rules of Professional Conduct outline that attorneys should aspire to 50 hours of pro bono service per year.[ix] There are a variety of ways to give back to our great community. One of those ways is to volunteer as an attorney representing guardians ad litem that operate through the Family Advocates nonprofit organization in the Fourth Judicial District, or one of the seven CASA programs in each of the judicial districts around the state.
As a Guardian, you must represent the child’s best interest. The child may want one thing, and the foster parents want something completely different. In addition to that, the biological parents may want something else, too. As a guardian, it can be very helpful to have an attorney to bounce ideas off, when you inevitably have a difficult situation arise in the representation of a minor child.
As Idahoans, we care deeply for our community. As attorneys, it’s important we use our gifts and abilities as counselors to assist our community when they need it. Taking care of children and respecting a strong family dynamic are important to the future of our state. The system works, but only because of volunteers. It is important to always remember these issues, and when you’re able, help those that are less fortunate.
[iv] 2019 Annual Progress and Service Report, Child and Family Services Program, Idaho Department of Health and Welfare
[ix] Rule 6.1, Idaho Rules of Professional Conduct.
Keith Bryan and his wife live in Boise with their twin sons. Keith is a second-year law student at Concordia University School of Law and works full time as a paralegal at a local law firm.