Task force seeking help for homeless, abused youth

In a little over four months, a group of concerned citizens has been connecting local resources to help homeless teens.

However, much work remains to be done, the group said.

Members of the Brown County Homeless Teen Task Force now know what to do first when they have reason to believe a child is homeless or possibly being abused or neglected: Call the Indiana Department of Child Services hotline.

DCS will determine if there is evidence that merits removing a child from his or her home.

In earlier task force meetings, there was confusion from some members over whether to call DCS, because some children feared being put into the system. If a case is opened, that may mean the child might have to move in with a foster family in a nearby county because there are no foster families with room for more children in Brown County.

Every adult in Indiana is a mandated reporter if they have reason to believe abuse or neglect is happening. Failure to report child abuse is a Class B misdemeanor.

In addition to clarifying the line of action, the task force also has created a network of people who can help, but more are needed, said task force co-chairwoman Patricia Krahnke.

“It’s shown how much this community cares about the children in this community and how much they understand what a lot of these kids’ lives are like,” she said.

Where do they go?

Krahnke, a substitute teacher and mentor to students in the high school, recently helped a student by first calling DCS. The student contacted her through a message on Facebook, since she knew Krahnke.

However, during summer break, students who live outside of town and don’t have transportation may not have regular contact with other adults who can notice that they might be having problems, like teachers. That makes it more difficult for them to receive help.

The student Krahnke helped recently was having problems with her parents and left her home while CPS investigated the allegations. Members of the task force, including a local hotel owner, volunteered to house, comfort and look in on the teen for a few days.

One issue remained: Where should another child like this one go while the situation cools off and the investigation is being done? Sending a child to a local hotel to stay is not a safe or fair option because it requires the hotel to be responsible for the child’s comings and goings, Krahnke said.

Finding emergency and/or temporary housing is what the task force is focusing on now, Krahnke said.

The group hosted a public forum June 14 with DCS and Guardian ad Litem to educate people about how they could help.

Four people who aren’t already involved with those agencies or the task force showed up.

It takes about three months to become a foster parent in Brown County, DCS Director Harmony Gist said. The process includes interviews, getting character references, filling out paperwork and completing a home study.

The ultimate goal of DCS is to reunite the family, but when that is not possible, a person must be a family member or have kinship with a child to be able to house them in an emergency.

Kinship is defined as knowing the family — not just the child — for a number of years, Gist said.

If a person willing to take in a child is not kin, that person cannot house the child unless he or she is a licensed foster parent, Gist said.

Even in an emergency, family members or kin would still have to go through multiple state and federal background checks and a home check the day a child is removed from the home, she said.

The county is in need of foster parents, especially those willing to take in teens. The majority prefer to house younger children, Gist said.

“We get lots of no’s when it’s teens,” she said.

If DCS determines that abuse or neglect is not occurring in the home, the child will remain there.

Looking out for kids

The task force also is talking with a local group about using its space as a drop-in center for homeless teens to come and get a meal, take a shower and connect with other help.

Krahnke discovered another unmet need in recent weeks: a way to comfort kids when the anxiety and stress of these situations get to be too much.

A hotline could be created, which children could call to report that they are homeless and need advice or comfort, but that would require thoroughly educating the person answering the phone.

“It’s like, ‘I don’t know what’s going to happen to me … I need somebody who is going to be there,’” she said.

Gist said children can call the DCS hotline themselves. That is the most urgent type of call, and it will receive a response from a DCS caseworker in one hour.

Guardians ad Litem also can provide support to children — but only after DCS determines that a child is being abused or neglected and DCS intervention is necessary.

“We’re there for the kids when no one else can be,” said Gay Lawson, the longest serving Guardian ad Litem volunteer in Brown County.

Guardian ad Litem volunteers represent the interests of a child in a court case, often working alongside attorneys and social workers.

Sallyann Murphey, Guardian ad Litem director, encouraged people to volunteer as a Guardian ad Litem if they cannot commit to being a full-time foster parent.

Guardian ad Litem volunteers provide a continuous presence in the child’s life. Lawson spoke about going to graduation and birthday parties.

Guardian ad Litem volunteers spend time with the child, the child’s family and all of those involved in the child’s life while conducting their own investigation.

Sometimes, what the child wants and what is in the child’s best interest do not always line up.

That is when Guardian ad Litem volunteers may have to speak up for the best interest of the child, and that may be staying away from the parent, even when the child wants to be reunited, Lawson said.

Become a foster parent

Foster parents must be at least 21, financially independent — meaning they could support themselves financially without the per diem they receive for housing a foster child — and must rent or own their own home.

A person cannot apply to be a foster parent when sharing a home with other people unless everyone goes through the application process, said Harmony Gist, the Department of Child Services director in Brown County.

Applicants will be subject to multiple home checks and a home study — a series of individual interviews with all adults in the household. A home environment test will also be conducted, which includes making sure there is adequate bedroom space for the child and that the home has fire extinguishers.

A medical statement from a physician for everyone in the household is also required, and completing paperwork and 16 to 20 hours of training that includes the behavior of abused or neglected children.

Foster parents are responsible for providing basic needs to the child, like clothing and food, along with getting them medical care and to/from school. A per diem — based on the child’s needs — will be given to the family. Medical costs are covered by Medicaid, Gist said.

“It’s a calling and it takes a special person. We need them, but it is a tough job,” she said.

To apply: Call DCS at 812-988-2239 and request more information. Applications can be picked up at 121 Locust Lane. The approval process takes three to four months. To learn more, visit fostercare.in.gov.

Become a Guardian ad Litem volunteer

Guardian ad Litem volunteers represent the interests of a child in a court case.

Prospective volunteers will take a workshop on what the work entails.

As soon as Guardian ad Litem Director Sallyann Murphey thinks the volunteer is ready to take a case alone, the volunteer is sworn in.

The time commitment starts at eight to 10 hours in the first month to six weeks. After that, the time commitment decreases.

Murphey requires volunteers to meet with families involved in a case at least once a month, but she prefers two. That totals about two hours a month.

Every three to six months, volunteers will attend a court hearing for which they will need to prepare a report. Murphey helps.

To apply: Contact Sallyann Murphey at 812-340-8894 or GALbrowncounty@gmail.com for more information.