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Sunnyside schools looking to keep foster kids in the community

Sunnyside School Board officials are currently considering implementing the "Family to Family" program to help kids who've been removed from their homes and placed into foster care.

According to John Hughes, the school district's security advisor, the idea of Family to Family is to keep kids in their respective communities when they've been removed from their family home.

Hughes said there are few people in this area willing to be foster parents. For that reason, many Sunnyside children are not just displaced from their homes, but from their communities, too.

According to Ernie Gowen, Area Administrator for Department of Social and Health Services, 44 percent of local children that have been removed from their homes have been placed in care outside of this town, some as far away as Liberty Lake and Spokane.

Gowen said it takes about six months for a child to recover from switching schools.

Gowen said, "We're looking at ways to implement this approach in the local community, what the best routes are to connect and partner (with resources)."

The program operates on four basic strategies.

According to information provided by Gowen, a placement decision needs to be made, family team decision-making takes place and team members include parents, children (if appropriate), relatives, friends, neighbors, community members, service providers, caregivers, social workers and supervisors. Teams work together to address the safety concerns and to create a network of support for the child and adults who care for the child.

The second strategy is to build community partnerships.

The third strategy is self-evaluation, so those involved in the Family to Family program can identify when progress is being made and when change is warranted.

The fourth strategy is to find and maintain foster and kinship families who can support children in their own neighborhoods.

"It really is pretty dramatic to see our kids removed (from their homes)," Hughes said.

Hughes said DSHS is ready to provide the school district $50,000 a year to manage the program.

"In the past, we've rarely executed team decision making...this really solidifies connections," Hughes said.

Hughes and Gowen will approach school board officials with a contract for review at a future meeting.

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