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Foster care program makes strides, but more parents wanted

Updated March 2, 2024 - 1:13 pm

Katie Krikorian held in her arms a tiny, sleeping baby girl, the 11th foster child assigned to her and her husband over the past five years.

“She was born into foster care,” Krikorian said. “I picked her up from the hospital when she was a week old. Like two days ago.”

“This is the first girl,” she added. “I’ve had like 10 boys consecutively and I originally opened my (foster care) license for girls, but there’re a lot more boys, and I have a hard time saying no.”

Maxed out

Krikorian’s brood, some of whom she pushes in a giant, multiseat stroller, includes four foster kids under the age of 5 — the most a foster parent is permitted by the Clark County foster care program.

“I’m at max,” said Krikorian, who with her husband has three children of their own, ages 13, 11 and 9.

Krikorian said she’s had “babies for four days and I’ve had babies going on two and a half years.” She is one of the county’s honored Foster Champions, a foster parent employed by the county to help run a hotline for other foster parents to offer support, advice and referrals.

The county’s foster care system serves about 3,200 children and youths, about a 5 percent to 7 percent increase in 2023 over the previous year, according to Patrick Barkley, deputy director of the Department of Family Services.

Related: What to know about becoming a foster parent in Clark County

In a recent presentation to the County Commission, Barkley said that the program succeeded in raising the number of regular foster care homes — minus parents who left the program — last year by 42, thanks to better recruitment of new licensed foster parents and retention of foster families.

Barkley said that most licensed foster care parents who leave the program do so for a good reason: They decided to adopt their foster kids.

The average number of days that it takes parent applicants to obtain a license has improved, falling from just under 100 days in 2022 to about 50 days in 2023, he said.

Another plus for the foster care program was the 25 percent pay increase for caregiver parents approved last year, with monthly stipends of about $846 month for fostering infants to 12 years old and $958 for youths 13 and older.

Super Bowl boost

Despite the positive numbers, the need for more foster parents is still strong.

In February, the county was able to highlight its foster care program during the Super Bowl. It spent $183,000 on a package of television ads that underscored the “pressing need for more foster homes.”

And the program, as part of its foster parent recruitment drive, has partnered with the LGBTQ Center of Southern Nevada to encourage families to participate, including LGBTQ children and teens.

Holly Kelsven, public information coordinator for the Family Services, said the program has about 344 licensed foster caregivers, mainly people from the general public who have gone through the county’s training program to get their licenses to qualify as foster parents.

The program’s goal is to add about 280 more parents holding standard foster care licenses this year, Kelsven said.

Some kids placed into foster care are in the custody of the county as ordered by Family Court when the birth parents cannot care for them or a county investigation finds that a child has been the victim of abuse or neglect.

A few are simply surrendered to the program by parents, but “the majority are coming into care because of neglect,” Kelsven said.

“Neglect can be failure to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, medical care, protection, educational neglect,” she said. “And then you see cases of physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse.”

Ideally, the children or youths are able to reunite someday with their biological parents, but if not, the next best is placement with a relative such as grandparents or aunts and uncles, who do not have to possess a county license.

‘Lots of babies’

An infant entering foster care from birth, such as in Krikorian’s case, is not that unusual, Kelsven said.

“There are different reasons that a baby might end up going straight from the hospital to foster care,” she said. “There could be prior involvement (of the birth parents) with family services. Often they have siblings that are already in care. So siblings are already in foster care or for other reasons. So that babies are born and go directly into foster care.”

“Generally speaking, over half of our kids are under the age of 5,” she said. “Lots of babies.”

Yet another change regarding foster care last year was the Nevada Legislature increasing the age to be released from foster care from 18 to 21, Krikorian said.

“Just because they turn the legal age (18) doesn’t mean they’re ready,” Krikorian said. “It’s too early for 18. Most parents don’t kick their kids out the door the moment they turn 18.”

Krikorian’s office is part of a massive complex of buildings at Bonanza and Pecos roads that includes the Family Court, juvenile court, juvenile detention center, the Child Haven facility housing kids waiting for foster placement and Peggy’s Attic, where foster kids can choose from a large amount of donated clothes and toys.

There are basically three types of foster parents: “regular” parents, who are unrelated to the children and hold county licenses, “relative” or “kinship” parents who are either related to the kids or a friend of the family, and “specialized” or “treatment” parents, those with extra training to take care of children with special needs, including formerly abused kids who require treatment and close supervision of their behavior, according to the department’s website.

‘Compassion and patience’

Krikorian explained that she and her husband took on the added responsibility of foster kids along with their own kids because they see it “as an ideal way to treat people.”

With their three kids, “we were kind of already in the thick of it and we thought, we can help other kids,” she said.

“So my kids have learned a lot of compassion and patience,” she said. “They truly believe that you are intended to give to the community in whatever way you can, in a way that kids who have not done this can’t possibly comprehend so well.”

Contact Jeff Burbank at jburbank@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0382. Follow him @JeffBurbank2 on X.

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