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Guest commentary: Change a child's life – and your own

Have you ever wanted to make a difference in someone's life while filling a critical need in your community?

Becoming a foster parent might not be the first thought that comes to mind. But if you have the capacity to open your heart to help, combined with a desire to create a safe and stable environment for children in crisis, it's a choice that can change their lives – and yours.

The goal is always to prevent foster care placement and for children to remain safely with their own family. When that's not possible, the second choice is to preserve family connections by placing children with a relative to provide foster care, keeping them in a familiar home and close to the people they love. When neither of these options is available, other foster families provide critical temporary care for children who need support during a tough time.

Right now, we don't have enough foster families in Minnesota.

On any given day last year, about 6,150 Minnesota children were in foster care. Youth between ages 14 and 21 made up over one quarter of that population, according to estimates. And many children in foster care have emotional and mental health needs.

Children of color and American Indian children are disproportionately represented in our foster care system, with significantly higher rates of placement in out-of-home care than white children, according to preliminary estimates: About 16 times higher for American Indian children, eight times higher for children of two or more races, and twice as high for Black children and Hispanic or Latino children.

The need remains strong for foster families who can make a difference for children while ensuring we meet their needs related to culture, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation and/or the language they speak at home.

The demands are also particularly high for foster parents who can support children with mental health issues and foster parents who can provide a home for youth.

New foster parents don't have to figure it all out on their own. Training helps them learn how to be a foster parent before a child is placed in their home. Supports including payments and other services help foster families meet the needs of the children in their care. Foster children get Medical Assistance or other insurance coverage for their medical, dental, mental health and vision care. More help is available if a child needs other services.

There's also training specifically for foster parents supporting children and youth with mental health needs.

If you're worried that foster families have to fit a preconceived picture, don't be. Foster parents can come from all walks of life. They can be single, partnered or married. They can rent or own a home. They can live in the Twin Cities metropolitan area or in Greater Minnesota (where almost two-thirds of the state's foster children reside).

What matters is that foster parents have the capacity to recognize the trauma children may be going through and the ability to provide structure, stability and support.

It's not an easy role, but it is so important. All children need stable, nurturing, permanent homes. When children temporarily need care and compassion at a crucial time in their lives, foster parents step up. Could you be one of them?

For more information:

• Visit Foster Adopt Minnesota at

• Visit the Department of Human Services website at

• Contact your county or Tribal social service agency

Tikki Brown is assistant commissioner for children and family services at the Minnesota Department of Human Services. She is responsible for services and policies that promote child care, child support, economic stability, child safety and permanency, and services for older youth. In July, Brown will begin serving as commissioner of the new Department of Children, Youth, and Families.


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