National Lutheran News

Giving a (foster) parent a break

Luther College assistant professor of social work, Britt Rhodes

Luther College assistant professor of social work, Britt Rhodes

According to Britt Rhodes, associate professor of social work at Luther College, Decorah, Iowa, students in her Fundamentals of Social Work Practice course crave pragmatic ways to support vulnerable people and their caregivers. Beginning in February, these students have a new way to serve their neighbors.

Respite Options of Northeast Iowa provides foster parents with an in-home certified care provider, enabling them to get away for a day, weekend, or vacation. Previously, these foster parents had to leave their children in another foster home in order to have any “time away.” Now this program has partnered with Luther College’s social work department to conduct the background studies for each applicant.

“Our students conduct in-person interviews [with respite applicants], do follow-up calls, and contact five references for each one,” explained Rhodes. The students do a background study and write a recommendation that is presented to Iowa’s Department of Human Services.

“It is a genuine service-learning experience for the students,” said Rhodes. They use their assessment skills to collect information and synthesize it into a treatment plan or, in this case, a recommendation.

For Kathy Novy, a foster mom in Denver, Iowa, the program, originally established by the Wartburg College social work department and the Allison Area Foster Parent Association in Iowa, has worked “beautifully.”

“We’ve used the program for a day here or there and a couple of times in an emergency,” Novy said. “It helps relieve stress and allows us to do things we could not do with the kids along.”

A network of stakeholders

The program, which started in four Iowa counties, has expanded to 13 northeastern Iowa counties, including the one in which Luther College is planted. These expansions include partnerships with the social work departments at Luther College; Loras College, a Roman Catholic school in Dubuque; and Wartburg College, another ELCA college located in Waverly. The expansions have been funded through a $25,000 contract with the Iowa Department of Human Services.

“We need a wider circle of providers, and we’re hoping to attract even more college students and other interested adults,” said Nancy Magnall, resource information specialist with the Iowa Foster and Adoptive Parents Association.

Providers must be at least 20 years old, complete an application and certification process, and be able to make a one-year commitment to the program. It has already trained 46 volunteers, including college students, former foster parents, and adult children of foster families. Trainings will be offered in Decorah and Dubuque beginning in February.

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