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County foster care programs serve those in need

When it comes to adult and child foster care programs in Otter Tail County, the need is there.

The county is home to nearly 100 licensed adult foster care facilities - 47 family foster care homes and 48 corporate foster care sites - according to Jody Dahlen, an adult foster care licensing social worker for the county.

"We're one of the bigger counties; we have a lot of adult foster homes," said Dahlen. "More than Becker and Clay counties."

Meanwhile, there are currently 17 licensed child foster care families, said the county's Child Foster Care Licensing Social Worker, Carla Johnson Rownd, and "we're always in need of more."

The number of kids in the foster program varies from year to year, Rownd said, but is typically around 30 at a time.

Children are placed into foster care for a wide variety of reasons, including abuse or neglect and mental health issues.

"It is a wonderful thing for people to want to do," said Rownd of fostering a child. "To be willing to open up their homes and hearts to that... It's a community effort to help kids."

Anyone interested in providing child foster care must receive special training, pass a background check and fire marshal inspection of the home, and be willing to work with a team of human services professionals and other agencies to provide the best care possible.

"It can be difficult and challenging," said Rownd. "But overall it's a very positive experience."

Sometimes the children are ultimately adopted by their foster families. In many other cases, they remain in contact with the families for years afterward.

"There's a mentorship type of role, other than just being a parent," said Rownd. "It means a lot (to the kids), knowing that someone cares and has opened up their family, their home and their life to them, helping them through some pretty difficult situations."

Finding foster families can be a bit harder in rural areas, Rownd said, but the need is still there. In Otter Tail County, there's a particular need for those willing to work with teens and adolescents. While there are some foster families doing this now, the county could use more.

Like child foster care providers, adult providers must pass a background check and meet certain criteria before being licensed.

Adult foster care facilities provide 24-hour supervision for clients 18 and older. Adults in foster care may be elderly, mentally ill, chemically dependent, developmentally disabled or physically  handicapped.

The level of care given "varies on a continuum depending on the needs of the client," said Dahlen, explaining that some clients are able to be left alone for periods of time - even working outside jobs - while others are "pretty medically fragile" and require constant, attentive care.

Some adult foster care is provided in the license holder's own home, with that person living right there. Other facilities, called corporate foster care sites, employ shift staff to work with the clients in a residential, homelike setting.

Grandview Estates in Ottertail is one such facility.

Licensed owner Sara Hansen said Grandview is home to four adult males - two with traumatic brain injuries and two recovering alcoholics. One of the men is confined to a wheelchair and requires more attentive care than the other three, who are fairly independent. Staff members are present at the facility 24/7.

Hanson, who has been a nurse since 1994, started Grandview about four years ago because, "I've always wanted to do it. I thought it would be interesting; something different."

It took her a few months to get established, but once word got out about the kind of clients she accepted, the calls started coming in.

"I think there was a need for these sort of clients," Hanson said. "I don't think Otter Tail County has much of that particular kind of home."

Every day, Hanson sees how the services she provides are beneficial. Without Grandview, she said, her clients "would probably be in jail or treatment." One client, who came from "a bad situation" out of state, has been doing "so much better" since coming here.