PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The Oregon Department of Human Services has struggled to connect a growing number of foster children with families as its office has dealt with numerous controversies and lawsuits.
But a local nonprofit could be on its way to changing how the entire state’s foster system operates by succeeding in areas where DHS has struggled in the past.
Catherine Feeny and Sebastian Rogers told KOIN 6 News they first heard about Embrace Oregon through their church in 2012. Like many other families considering foster programs, the couple said they had their doubts.
“We’ve wanted to be parents for a long time,” Rogers said. “Embrace Oregon really resonated with us because they had this holistic vision of what being involved in foster care might mean.”
Portland Leadership Foundation CEO Ben Sand said hearing concerns from potential foster parents like Feeny and Rogers made him realize too many people were intimidated by DHS and the foster care system in general.
That’s when he said he decided to change the narrative.
“We were convinced that if we could tell a story that was hopeful and determined and collaborative via social media and through our website, through videos and other PSAs, that Portlanders will be inspired to be part of the solution,” Sand said.
Embrace Oregon’s Every Child program was a perfect fit for Feeny and Rogers who began fostering their now 6-year-old daughter Alison 5 years ago.
“Across the state of Oregon, children with hopes, dreams, insecurities and fears await safe, healthy homes where they can flourish.” – Every Child
“She’s so special… just has brought so much life to our home,” Feeny said.
The couple said they were surprised by how quickly Alison took to them.
“We expected her to have distrust of us or there to be a barrier,” Rogers said. “There just wasn’t. It was just an instant connection.”
The parents said they’re grateful for the foundation Embrace Oregon provided them.
“It’s a whole different experience than what you imagined. All [the] training and preparation… in the end we’re just experiencing a really beautiful, joyful and vulnerable child,” Rogers said.
Now, DHS is partnering with Embrace Oregon, hoping to one day have too many families wanting to foster children, instead of the other way around.
“In 2015, we had 173 families inquire to become foster families, which is a huge number,” Sand said. “In 2016… we had 469 families inquire to become foster families in Portland. That number is a record number.”
According to DHS, Oregon currently has about 7,600 children in foster care.
For more information on becoming a foster parent through Every Child, click here.