Missouri has nearly 13,400 children in foster care – making the state’s foster care rate one of the highest in the country. Only about 5,000 foster homes currently exist to care for these kids, sometimes leading to the separation of siblings.
A study by a law professor in Baltimore says foster children suffer post-traumatic stress disorder at nearly double the rate of war veterans.
“When you come into foster care, you lose your mom and your dad. No matter what they did, those kids normally love mom and dad, said Darrell Missey, director of Missouri’s Children’s Division. “They lose their room. They lose their house. They lose their toys and stuff. They get nothing more to take with them than what they can fit into a plastic trash bag. Imagine being seven and having that happen to you.”
The Missouri Children’s Division and Gov. Mike Parson have a $22 million plan to rebuild the division into one that is designed to help keep families safely together when possible. Under one phase of the plan, 100 workers would be added to focus on prevention measures.
“The options we have right now is act or don’t act,” Missey told Missourinet. “What this (new model) would do is have something in the middle. One-hundred workers would not take care of all the prevention work that we need. I think it would prime the pump. It is a good first start to get us moving in that direction to working to keep those numbers down.”
For those who might question how Missouri can afford this plan, Missey calls the effort a small government solution to a big government problem.
“These folks are designed to help keep government small by trying to keep those kids out of foster care,” he said. “Taking some steps to keep kids out of foster care, it’s less invasive, it’s less expensive.”
What does it cost to keep one child in foster care? According to Missey, about $25,000 per year in Missouri.
“If we have 14,000 children in foster care, that means the bill for this is $350 million per year,” he said. “Because we have double the national average of kids in foster care per capita, if we cut it in half and became average, became an average state, it would save the state $175 million a year.”
Missey cites Maryland, a state that has reduced its foster care count over a decade from about 12,000 down to less than 4,000. Maryland has a similar population size as Missouri.
Like many government agencies and private sector industries, the division is struggling with worker burnout and a worker shortage. Missey thinks another part of the governor’s budget proposal that will help to put the division on the rebuilding path is giving state workers an 8.7% pay increase.
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