Nearly 4,000 children are in foster care in Montana. The reasons they enter the system are varied — many having been removed from homes where drug or alcohol abuse, physical abuse or neglect threatened their safety. While some are removed for a period of time to allow their parents to undergo a treatment program, serve a prison sentence or find stable footing, roughly 10% of those in the system hope to be adopted into their forever family.
Since 2010, the Bigfork-based nonprofit Child Bridge has helped link these children with prospective foster or adoptive families resulting in 141 successful adoptions and 1,432 foster placements over the past decade. The organization, which now operates seven regional offices across the state, was founded by Steve and Mary Bryan, who wanted to find a faith-based solution to support foster and orphaned children.
Through outreach efforts largely conducted in the church setting, Child Bridge works to raise awareness about the need for adoptive and foster families, connects them with resources and state agencies, and walks with families through the process. However, it is the State of Montana, through the Child and Family Services Division of the state Department of Health and Human Services, that conducts official foster care training and places children with approved families.
“[The state] covers broad counties, they handle all new prospective [families], all ongoing families, all kinship families. Their workload is huge, so we try to alleviate or help as best as we can, answering some of those questions up front for a family,” explained Aaron Scofield, the Kalispell Regional Director for Child Bridge.
Within Scofield’s service area, which includes Flathead, Lake and Lincoln counties, plus a portion of Sanders county, there are between 60 and 80 active families who either have a foster child in their home or have been vetted to receive one. Child Bridge also works with another 40 to 60 families who are interested, but have yet to be approved to host a child.
“We need an overabundance of families that are willing to say ‘yes’ and wait for that child to need a family, whether that’s short term — a week, a month, a year — or forever,” he said.
Having that surplus of families that are ready and willing to take in a child is critical to meet the fluctuating need.
“If there’s not somebody local, then that child has to be completely uprooted — not just from their family — but from school, their friends, their neighborhood, everything, and be placed somewhere else,” Scofield said. “If we had 20 families today, they would be used like that and we would need another 20 next month. We also need families that are willing to adopt. There are kids that need a family yesterday.”
One of the most compelling cases he could recall from his four and a half years with the organization involved a two-year-old child. Child Protective Services had been contacted to remove the child in light of a domestic dispute between the child’s mother and her boyfriend.
“The cops were called in because this child’s mother was about to be killed by the boyfriend. When they found this little kiddo, they were covered in beer stains and urine — never had a bed to sleep in. This little kiddo only knew one way to survive and that was to fight,” Scofield recalled. “When I read that kiddo’s story, my heart broke. I said, ‘If I can help change the life of a child like this, then I want to be a part of that.’”
A wide range of family types can qualify to adopt or foster — single people or couples with or without children can apply as long as they are each 18 years of age or older and in good physical and mental health. Those who meet the state standards should also be prepared for the unexpected. Many children are frightened or confused about being taken from their home and may have accompanying emotional, behavioral or physical problems as a result of past trauma, neglect or abuse.
“When a family steps into this journey, they’re really stepping into a very gray situation — there is no black and white. You’re getting a kid and you may not know where they’re coming from, how long they’re going to stay with you or what that’s going to look like — are you OK with that?” Scofield said.
But when everything comes together, the outcomes are life-changing. Child Bridge has recruited and equipped more than 535 families to care for upwards of 1,400 children since their inception.
“We’ve got to sit in on several adoptions, watch several hundred kids placed in loving family,” he said.
Scofield finds joy in seeing families say “yes” to foster care and adoption, whether that’s for a short or long-term period.
“All types of family structures are needed in this journey,” Scofield said. “Really, it boils down to: Is the family willing to understand where the hurt of that child comes from?” »
Editor Mackenzie Reiss can be reached at 758-4433 or firstname.lastname@example.org.