Mesa County kicking off campaign to find loving parents for kids
Bob and Jenny Dalley wanted to adopt children long before they got married and had their own son.
In the course of doing research on the Internet, the Grand Junction couple was drawn to foster parenting as a means to adopting. They read accounts of brothers and sisters who were removed from their biological homes but weren’t placed together in a new home. It broke their hearts.
They took in their first foster child in January 2007. They’ve since cared for 10 more — two sets of three siblings, two brothers who were dropped off on their doorstop late at night in their pajamas, children who stayed as little as a weekend or as long as nearly two years.
Bob, 43, and Jenny, 40, adopted the two brothers last July. They’re preparing to adopt a 2-year-old girl who’s been with them since August 2008.
“God has given us so much love and protection, and we want to be able to offer that up to other people,” Jenny Dalley said.
In a county where all of the roughly 150 foster homes are full, the Dalleys are the kind of foster parents the Mesa County Department of Human Services hopes emerge as part of an aggressive recruitment campaign the department is in the beginning stages of launching.
County officials hope to build on last year’s success, when they certified 35 new foster homes, the largest recruitment in 17 years. They have set a goal of certifying 40 new homes this year. For the first time, they also have set a goal of certifying two Spanish-speaking homes and two homes for medically fragile children.
That latter goal represents the outgrowth of a new focus on niche marketing and drawing in specific kinds of foster families who can meet a child’s needs — needs that are growing more diverse.
“We have to go to smaller places and recruit the exact kinds of families our kids need,” said Len Stewart, executive director of the county Department of Human Services. “It is possible at the highest level to look at the number of kids, look at the number of slots, and it looks as if everything is netting out fine. (But) what you realize when you talk to kids and families is that kids come through with a variety of needs, and you need to find the most appropriate placement, not just a placement.”
The county plans to spend between $10,000 and $15,000 on its campaign. Some advertising will be ubiquitous: fliers in Domino’s Pizza boxes; McDonalds placemats; and utility bills mailed by various local governments. Other marketing will target specific audiences: signs in the outfield of Grand Mesa Little League fields; movie theater advertising during G- and PG-rated films; presentations to medical personnel at local hospitals and school teachers.
A total of 500 yard signs with sign-up sheets will be planted throughout the county, particularly in neighborhoods whose residents would seem to fit the foster-parent profile.
“We’re trying to go where the likeliest foster families will see our message,” Stewart said.
Human Services spokeswoman Karen Martsolf said the county has a great need for people who can take medically fragile infants. She said those infants can suffer from health problems associated with parental drug usage and be born premature with underdeveloped systems. The county currently has 10 homes that can take kids with medical problems, and all have children living in them.
Martsolf noted it’s not necessary for those foster parents to be doctors or certified nurses. She said the county can train them, depending upon the needs of the child.
Human Services employees work to keep children in or near their neighborhoods.
“If we place a child, we want the foster home to keep them connected with their church, with their friends, with their schools, with their communities,” Stewart said. “We don’t want a kid who has grown up in Palisade being placed in Fruita.”
Once kids are placed, the county strives to limit their movement between foster homes.
“Anything beyond two moves in placement is very deleterious to the kids’ long-term well-being,” he said. “If we don’t get it right at first, and we have to keep moving, moving, moving, that’s doing more harm to the kids.”