Betty Rose Cortes
Dorothy Wolf, left, opens her gate to her home in Burien. She and Dwayne Ott, right, have worked together in the past to place foster children into licensed foster care homes.

She opens doors for foster children, will you?

Burien resident spends the past 30 years as a foster parent to help fill the need.

By Betty Rose Cortes

“Please help! A 6 year old girl needs placement today!” The key message from the four to five emails and phone calls Burien resident Dorothy Wolf receives daily is from the State Department of Social and Health Services, as they reach out in efforts to immediately place a child into a home licensed for foster care.

“Every day there is a need to put a child into a home,” social worker Duane Ott said, “we need to find more foster parents to take in these children needing immediate placement.”

For Wolf, meeting this need has been her life. While she does have children of her own, since the early ‘80s Wolf has been a foster parent to many children who are not. In the past ten years alone, Wolf has taken in 45-50 foster children.

“I became a licensed foster parent because it was the only way to see my (then) husband’s grandson,” Wolf said, “I’ve continued to take in children because they (the state) call desperately and they need the help.”

“In the past, I’ve had children in my office late into the evening and assisted in calling foster homes after hours to see if they can take in children on such short notice,” said Ott.

Ott is also the Director of Behavioral Rehabilitative Services at Youthville, one of the few private agencies that work with foster care families to support each home through every aspect of the foster care process. In addition to working with high risk teens, Ott also worked for the state to license foster homes.

“There’s a crisis and need to find more foster parents, especially here on this side (west) of the mountain,” he said. “We just don’t have enough resources.”

According to Ott, the crisis to place foster children into homes is the fact that foster parents are licensed to care for only a specific range of children. For example, a 10 year old boy may need immediate placement, but homes licensed for children in that age range may be full. Other homes may have room, but those homes may only be licensed to care for infants or female children, or foster parents of those homes could be unavailable.

While the general public believes that foster homes need a two parent household, a yard for children to play in and a room for each child, Ott says, although ideal, this is not necessary. In fact, individuals of diverse socio-economic backgrounds are most needed.

“We need more single parent foster homes, same sex couple foster homes, foster homes of different cultures,” Ott said, “there is a disproportionately large class of minority foster children, so we need Asian families, Hispanic families, religious families.”

“We’re allowed two days of Respite, which is a break for me,” Wolf said, “and that is how foster parents should start off, to see if they are willing to be permanent foster parents.”

Wolf describes the opportunity for individuals to foster children only a few days a month rather than every day of the week. With Respite, permanent foster parents are entitled to two days a month where they are “child free”. The hope is that children are sent to familiar foster homes during Respite.

“What people need to remember is that these children get into the foster care system because it was determined by the state that there was abuse, or neglect, or abandonment in their home,” Ott said, “it’s important for them to go to homes within their same school district and homes they’ve been in before for some stability.”

At the end of fiscal year 2012 Washington state alone saw over 5,300 new children enter the foster care system according to statistics from the Administration for Children and Families (www.acf.hhs.gov). In the same year, 5,100 children exited (by aging out, reunify with their parents or becoming adopted), while 3,600 children remained in the foster care. For each new and remaining child (including any of their siblings), a foster parent is needed.

And Wolf’s family continues to do their part.

“My sister in law is a foster parent, my niece is a foster parent,” said Wolf, “and my daughter is in the process of applying.”

“If you have the space, the heart and the commitment,” said Ott, “you can be a foster parent."

To learn more about becoming a foster parent, visit the DSHS site here, or check out ways Youthville can help facilitate the process by visiting www.youthville.org/washington.

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