Comfort for kids in foster care

Staff photo by Connor Cummiskey Members of Minnesota Voices Marching Forward pack duffel bags with comforting items for kids entering the foster care system. Pictured left to right: Judi Nelson, Molly Nelson and Mindy Kimmel.

NEW ULM — Two dozen local foster children will be getting specially packed bags to help them in the foster system.

Minnesota Voices Marching Forward (MVMF), a self-described “non-partisan, diverse, and expanding community” born after women’s marches, packed “Sweet Cases” Monday night at Turner Hall to donate to Brown County Human Services.

“The reason that I wanted to do this project is, the program (Together We Rise) explained that a lot of kids that go into foster care are given basically a black trash bag to keep their belongings in and this is just so much more dignified,” member Heather Bregel said.

Sweet Cases are duffle bags filled with a blanket, teddy bear, coloring book, crayons and a hygiene kit.

There are two sizes, one for children and one for teens. MVMF added some fabric markers to the teenagers’ bags so they could personalize their bags.

Together We Rise is the non-profit behind the bags. It started after the founder, Danny Mendoza, learned his 9-year-old cousin lived in a car.

Mendoza could not foster his cousin, because he was under 21. Instead he looked for other ways to help foster kids.

The idea for bags came about after learning that most kids in foster care get two black trash bags to carry their things.

Heather Bregel, with Minnesota Voices, learned of the program through Facebook. To buy 10 bags, the minimum amount, the organization needed $250.

It got $200 in the form of a mini-grant from the Roots and Shoots program of the Jane Goodall Institute.

“I was hoping to put 10 together,” Bregel said. “We ended up raising $320 plus the $200 grant, so we had over $500. We were able to purchase 12 sweet cases and 12 teen bags, for older kids.”

Before stuffing the bags, Denise Kamm, the supervisor of Brown County Children’s Services, spoke to the group about the state of the local foster system.

There are about 25 children currently in foster care. The county averages 20-30 children at any one time and 60-70 cases a year. Some are repeats.

The number of placements in the system has been increasing statewide. In part that is due to a new screening process, but drug use is a significant contributor.

Foster children are also getting younger. In the past most were teenagers but now more toddlers and babies are in the system, again mostly due to parental drug use, Kamm said.

Currently only a dozen non-family foster parents work in the area. Most are in New Ulm, with one family in Sleepy Eye.

The department tries to match each foster child with a family that allows for as few placements as possible. That way they stay with one family and either return to their parents, extended family or stay put.

“That really gets to be hard, when we have as little number of foster parents as we have right now,” Kamm said.

Each foster parent has to go through a background check, make sure their house is up to code and generally prove they are safe for the child to live with.

The foster parents can choose how they want to foster. They can be respite-only where they take the kids for a weekend or a few days, and they can be long-term or short-term.

Due to Minnesota’s permanency laws, a child in foster care generally needs to find a permanent home after six months.

At that point the parents get reviewed by a judge. There are three general directions from there: the parents reunify with the kids, the parents have not done enough work on their case yet and have another six months, or custody is lost and the child can get adopted by a foster parent or someone with a significant relationship with them.

The child can throw a wrench into the works if they are over 14. At that point, they can choose to consent to a permanent home.

Virtually all foster kids still care about their parents and some may refuse a permanent home without them and drift through the system.

Kamm suggests anybody interested in possibly fostering to contact Brown County Human Services to learn requirements and what resources there are for foster parents.

Call (507) 354-8246 to get in touch with the department.

Connor Cummiskey can be emailed at ccummiskey@nujournal.com.