Las Vegas dad’s life mission: Stem our foster care shortage

1 0
Read Time4 Minute, 42 Second
Jamaal Moore of Olive Crest

Wade Vandervort

Jamaal Moore, recruitment coordinator at Olive Crest, poses for a photo Thursday, Aug. 1, 2019. Moore, who has fostered 36 children himself over the past decade, recruits other foster parents for at-risk youths in Las Vegas.

Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019 | 2 a.m.

Las Vegan Jamaal Moore wasn’t the ideal candidate to be a foster parent from an outsider’s perspective — he was a single man in his 20s. But fostering children was something Moore had been gearing up for his entire life, even if he hadn’t realized it.

Moore, who grew up around a large family, remembers how his parents took in children from their extended family, and how they would host these children in their homes for months at a time when the parents, for a variety of circumstances, couldn’t.

“I didn’t know we were helping. I just thought we were throwing a six-month-long slumber party,” he said. “As I got older, I was able to put a name to it. My family provided an unofficial foster home.”

Moore, who at age 26 was already fostering his cousin’s children, received a phone call about 10 years ago from Child Haven, an emergency drop-off center for children between homes. They asked him to take in a 10-year-old boy whose grandmother had fallen ill and could no longer take care of him. Moore was hesitant at first, but ultimately decided to foster him.

In Moore’s mind that’s exactly what his aunts would have done. His extended family included seven aunts, all of whom were involved in raising each other’s children.

Over the next decade, Moore would foster 36 children from a wide range of backgrounds, cultures and ethnic groups.

“I knew it was my responsibility to provide a safe place for them and to create a lifelong memory for them,” he said. “For them to know that our home is a safe place.”

Through all his experiences, Moore, now 36, has learned many lessons in what it takes to be a good, nurturing foster parent. He uses his expertise when recruiting other foster parents for Olive Crest’s foster care program. Olive Crest is a local nonprofit aimed at helping abused and neglected children.

“You have to have a heart and you have to be culturally sensitive,” Moore said. “You have to understand the backgrounds of where these children are coming from.”

Caitlin Basye, director of foster and adoptions at Olive Crest, said Clark County is facing a foster care shortage with more than 3,000 children in the system and not enough sponsor families to take them in. There are fewer than 500 regular foster homes in the county and just over 300 relative foster homes, or children staying with extended family, the Department of Family Services reported in June. In June, the average daily population at Child Haven was 55 with the average length of stay being 3.7 days.

“That doesn’t mean those children aren’t in the process of being placed in a home, but it does imply there is a shortage,” Basye said.

One challenge, Basye said, is trying to ensure sibling are able to stay together. She also said the transient nature of Clark County makes it difficult to match children.

“Having additional resources would allow us all to better match those children, and for children to not have to spend time at Child Haven,” she said. “We’d like to make it so that from the moment they are removed from parents’ care, they are going straight into a family’s home, and that they are going to a home that is very well-prepared for their age and behavioral needs, mental health needs and developmental needs.”

That’s why Basye and others at Olive Crest are encouraging more people to look into becoming foster parents. She said the process, while stringent, is more accessible than most realize.

In Clark County, foster parents can be as young as 21. Although not common, Basye said she has seen some foster parents in their 20s come into the system. Foster parents can also be single as long as their income covers home expenses and they can pass a background check, she said.

“There are many people that could be foster parents,” she said. “If they have the time and the willingness, as well as the heart and servanthood mindset.”

Moore, who has two biological children, finds that he often has to parent his foster children differently than his biological children, since many of the children he takes in come from traumatic backgrounds, and the disciplinary methods he uses on his own children may not be effective on the children he fosters.

“You have to have a lot of restraint with what you know as a parent, and dig deep to figure out what this child needs from you,” Basye said. “Even if it doesn’t come naturally for you, even if it’s not what your culture is, even if it’s not what your parents taught you or what you taught your children.”

Moore said as a foster parent, he never intended to be an adoptive resource. Instead, he said he will always foster a child for as long as he can until they are reunified with their families or adopted.

“I knew it was my responsibility to provide a safe place for them and to create a lifelong memory for them,” he said. “For them to know that our home is a safe place.”