“There are too few foster parents and foster homes,” said Friends of Youth President and CEO Terry Pottmeyer.
It’s true. The number of licensed foster homes in the state has slowly but steadily decreased, from about 6,000 homes in 2010 to less than 5,000 in 2015, according to data from the Washington Department of Social and Health Services. Only 40 percent of foster homes remain licensed for more than three years.
Friends of Youth was originally founded in 1951 by Iva Matsen and others from the University Congregational Church to address concerns about foster care shortages. Since then, the nonprofit’s reach and scope has expanded to include homeless youth services, mental health counseling, substance abuse treatment, and other youth and family services.
“We have grown over time in response to the needs of the kids in the community,” Pottmeyer said.
But foster care still remains at the heart of what Friends of Youth does. The organization is always looking to recruit new foster parents.
“Whether they’ve ever had a tug or a pull to be a foster parent... we’d love to talk to them,” Pottmeyer said.
There is no blueprint for what a good foster parent can look like. “They can be single. They can be in a committed relationship. They can live in an apartment, a condo, a home,” Pottmeyer said. “The qualifications are just that they want to take a young person in and help them through a difficult time in their life.”
Friends of Youth not only works to recruit foster parents, they also work with those parents during the required training and throughout the caregiving process.
“We actually support them once a child is placed with them,” Pottmeyer said.
The type of care provided by a foster parent can vary. Parents can choose to provide short-term or long-term care to one or multiple children.
“It really depends on the needs of the kids and what’s going on in their lives,” said Pottmeyer.
Friends of Youth has around 26 sites all across King County. Another issue the group helps to address is youth mental health. Mainly by way of fundraising meals, Friends of Youth acquires the resources to staff mental health counselors inside schools in three different school districts in Issaquah, Duvall, and Snoqualmie Valley.
That counseling can focus on all sorts of issues, from anxiety and depression to bullying. Any student can simply go down the hall and have access to a counselor at any time during the school day, Pottmeyer said.
“It’s a model that works really well. It is not a model that has a clear funding stream,” she said.
Eventually, Friends of Youth wants all students to have access to this kind of care. “That’s our north star. That’s where we want to be in the future,” she said. “We take baby steps toward that every day.”
“Not only is it important for high school students to have access to mental health counseling, it is also important for elementary school students to have the same,” Pottmeyer said.
“We are firm believers that you can teach kids the skills to stay behaviorally, emotionally, and mentally healthy,” she said. “We don’t do enough to give kids and families those tools.”
Want to help but not ready to be a foster parent? Friends of Youth depends on the help of about 900 current volunteers, and the group is always looking for more. For more information or to donate, go to www.friendsofyouth.org.