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VICTOR JOECKS: If you want to help foster kids, change this

Clark County is both desperate for foster parents and turning away loving families. Welcome to the unintended consequences of government regulation.

You may recall news reports from earlier in the year that the county was especially desperate for foster parents. There were more than 100 children waiting at Child Haven. That included more than a dozen children under 2 years old. Child Haven is where children go when they are taken into care. They’re supposed to quickly go into licensed foster homes or with relatives. But if no homes are available, they sit there waiting.

The county was so desperate that it offered a condensed two-week version of its training for foster parents. The course usually runs nine weeks.

Kati Nimmo heard about the need, and it weighed heavily on her heart. She and her husband decided to attend an information meeting with the goal of becoming foster parents.

It would be hard to imagine a better couple to be foster parents. Nimmo is an Air Force veteran and a nurse. Her husband still serves in the Air Force. They recently bought a house. They have younger children, so they aren’t naïve about the ups and downs of parenting.

You would expect officials to welcome this family with open arms. Instead, they were told they didn’t qualify. The hang-up? Nimmo doesn’t follow the CDC vaccine schedule for her biological children. State regulations require that “all children residing in the foster home must be currently immunized,” according to CDC recommendations.

Nimmo said she was “shocked.” She was even more surprised when she started talking to people about this. “I’ve talked to tons of families (about foster care), but this has been preventing them from doing it,” she said. She’s not the only one. My wife and I are licensed foster parents. We know several families that have either not been able to foster or not pursued it because of this issue.

This regulation makes no sense. The county directs a foster child’s medical care, so foster children will always receive vaccines. If vaccines work as advertised, they will be protected.

The only purpose seems to be to try to pressure would-be foster parents into getting their kids vaccinated. Heavy-handed tactics can work with things like school enrollment. Parents want their children educated. It’s also free child care. Those are tangible benefits.

Foster care, however, requires a family to sacrifice to serve a child they don’t know. Outcomes range from emotionally messy to soul crushing. If you tell families with children that they aren’t allowed to do it, most will move on. Nimmo is a rare exception. Based on her family medical history, her pediatrician wrote a letter explaining her decision. The county accepted it, and she and her husband are now taking classes.

The children denied a family by this regulation have nowhere to go — literally. In January 2019, the average daily population at Child Haven was 60.1 children. Their average length of stay was 8.8 days. In January 2023, Child Haven averaged 97.9 children with an average stay of 21.5 days.

The solution isn’t getting rid of Child Haven. The county needs more caring foster parents. In January 2019, there were 683 licensed regular foster homes. Last January, there were 310.

The situation could soon get much worse. The CDC recently added the COVID vaccine to its recommendations. If the county starts requiring that, look out. Less than 20 percent of Nevada children 11 and under have received the coronavirus vaccine.

Nimmo wants to fix this. She started a petition. She contacted legislators, eventually connecting with state Sen. Scott Hammond. He said he’s working with the county to find a way to change this. Good.

Nevada’s broken foster care system needs all the quality families it can get.

Victor Joecks’ column appears in the Opinion section each Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Contact him at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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