Currently, there are 65 children in foster homes in the county and seven awaiting adoption or transfers.

“Our number one goal is to reunite children with their parents.” she said. “If reunification doesn’t happen, we are always hopeful their foster home would be willing to adopt or accept a transfer of custody. We don’t want them to shift from home to home, losing attachment and we want them to have as normal of a home life as possible.”

If a foster home is not available locally, child protection workers are forced to find foster homes around the state that have the availability for the children.

“That means children could potentially have to move to another county, away from their school and area of support,” she said. “That gets really complicated, especially setting up visitations with parents and offering services.”

Children are placed in foster care once all other options for care by a relative are exhausted. “If we can find a relative that we can license, that's first what we do,” she said. “We also try everything possible to keep siblings together.”

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Branstrom said the number one reason children in Hubbard County end up in foster care is due to neglect.

Foster parent requirements

“First and foremost is a complete background check,” Branstrom said. “There is also a home inspection to make sure the home is licensable. You get to choose the sex and age of child that you provide care for. It’s your home, your license, your choice. If you are licensed but it is not a good time for you to take a child in, it is okay to say no. You are never forced to take a placement.”

There are a wide variety of foster parents. “We have all ages, all professions,” Branstrom said. “We have some stay-at-home moms. That’s easier with babies, since child care for that age is so limited. We also have working parents and single people who are foster parents.”

Foster homes can house from one to six children, depending on the size of the home.

The county provides a monthly stipend to foster parents for providing care. Also the county provides medical insurance to all children in out of home placement.

Branstrom said the top three qualities a foster parent should have are being involved, nurturing and patient.

“We also offer many services to support foster parents and the children in their care,” she said. “Counseling sessions, therapy, extra schooling, medical care.”

Helping children thrive

“Foster care can help children flourish,” Branstrom said. “It’s a great thing for most of the children placed. Our main goal is to reunite them with their parents or legal guardians.”

She said the biggest need for foster care is with teenagers. “Getting more foster parents to sign up who will take teenagers would be amazing,” she said. “Most of the time these are great children. They just haven’t had the opportunity to really excel because they haven’t been in an environment that supports them.”

Foster parents participate in virtual support groups and must have 12 hours of training each year. Social workers also offer support.

“Any concern that a foster parent has, they coordinate with the investigator, case manager or myself,” she said. “We like to provide them with as many resources as possible.”

Branstrom said foster parents make a huge difference in a child’s life. “That’s true whether the child is there for a short time or until they reach adulthood,” she said.

How to help

Anyone interested in becoming a licensed foster parent can contact Branstrom at Hubbard County Social Services.

“Even if we get one or two new applicants, we would be so grateful,” Branstrom said.

Donations of Visa or Walmart gift cards are also welcome any time throughout the year.

“That would be wonderful,” Branstrom said. “We might get a baby needing placement in the middle of the night and need to get diapers, wipes and formula. Sometimes a child is removed from their home with just the clothes they’re wearing and we need to get them what they need before they are placed.”

Send gift cards to Hubbard County Social Services with “attention foster care” or Branstrom’s name. “We’ll make sure they get to our accounting department and will be disbursed on an as-needed basis,” she said. “A ton of donations also come in the door without being asked. We’ve had churches donate books and people donating suitcases and toys for Christmas. It all helps and we are so thankful for such a caring community.”