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May 21, 2018 10:18 PM

Finding Foster Families

When men and women face criminal charges for meth, there are often victims you don't hear about: their children.

KELOLAND News has shown you how an increase in meth crimes puts more children into foster care. Recent data from the Kids Count Data Center shows there were 1,280 sons and daughters in the state's foster system. That was up 106 more than the year before.

A local foster family is showing us why these services are so important, and why South Dakota needs more foster families. 

"Can I color?" one of Alisha DeHaan's children said. 

 "Yeah, do your numbers," DeHaan replied. 

As the DeHaan family gathered in their kitchen, it highlighted that sometimes just being able to count on a friendly face at the other side of the table can mean the world to a child. DeHaan says she and her husband wanted a family more than anything. They got one, including 18-year-old daughter, Tyra King. 

"Being a part of a family and having a home is nice," King said.  

It wasn't always that way for King, and she has that in common with a majority of her foster siblings who have lived here over the years. 

"We have a sign up there, every family has a story. Welcome to ours," DeHaan said. 

This story started when DeHaan thought her dreams of being a mother had ended. After she and her husband struggled with fertility issues for years, they looked into becoming foster parents. 

"It just really called us to go in that direction," DeHaan said. 

Eventually giving birth to three children didn't stop DeHaan from answering that call. After welcoming her first foster child eight years ago, DeHaan kept going. 

"I've been a mom to, in some way or form, to over 30 kids. It's a pretty neat blessing," DeHaan said. 

DeHaan tries to be a light for everyone who comes to her house, because they're often connected by a dark trend: Meth.

"A lot of our kids have been exposed to that drug, other drugs, and things like that. Whether it's visually seeing parents and others using the drug. Some of our kids have been exposed to it themselves," DeHaan said. 

DeHaan says King's family has struggled with the drug, and that's how she came to live there. In her experience, DeHaan says it's important to let kids be kids, but points out foster children who come from troubled homes often may need more than just markers and coloring books; they need support and structure. 

"You're dealing with trauma, you're dealing with abuse, you're dealing with PTSD, you're dealing with different dynamics; but at the end of the day, these are kids who just want to be normal," DeHaan said. 

Now, there's a greater need in South Dakota for more foster families like DeHaan's.

"Statewide, we have a huge shortage of foster families for all ages, especially, teenagers," DeHaan said. 

Minnehaha County Deputy State's Attorney Carrie Mees says meth continues to impact the foster system. 

"Unfortunately, it's a trend right now we're seeing an increase of," Mees said. 

Mees says just this year, she has 40 new abuse and neglect cases and more than half of them are meth-related. Since April, she has filed 21 new petitions to place a child in foster care or with a family member. 14 of those cases are meth-related. 

Mees says the meth cases are stressing the foster system. Not only is the drug putting parents behind bars and more children in foster care, Mees says it's why many kids are in the system longer. 

"Addictions are life-long, and even when a parent is on the road to recovery, when we have those hiccups and we have setbacks and when we have relapses, that can start the process over again," Mees said. 

Mees says the primary goal is to get parents rehabilitated so they can be with their children again. DeHaan says as a foster parent, you have to be prepared for this. 

"We're rooting for those birth parents just as much. We want our kids safe, we want them taken care of. We want those parents to get better and get the help they need so they can hopefully get their kids back," DeHaan said. 

In some cases, that doesn't happen. The DeHaans became King's legal guardians, and are now preparing to send her off to college. King says leaving home will be hard, but she knows she has a home to come back to. 

"You are giving children an opportunity to grow from something they never had," King said. 

Finding a foster family doesn't automatically fix everything, but just knowing you have a place at someone's table can make a world of difference.  

"Being a mom is a privilege. Not everyone gets to do it. Not everybody can do it, and that's ok. But it's a privilege and we believe very strongly we were led in that direction for a reason," DeHaan said. 

To find out more about becoming a foster parent, visit South Dakota's Department of Social Services' website

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