The District Department of Human Resources (DHR) is responsible for approximately 2,500 children in foster care and has less than a third of the number of social workers needed to supervise their care, according to a DHR official who spoke at a Community forum recently at the Howard University School of Social Work.

A foster child needs 80 hours of a social worker's time annually, said Jean Schreiber, director of residentlycare services division for DHR. The department would need 109 case workers to provide this level of care. DHR, however, now has 31 social workers who handle caseload save averaging 80 children each; some of these workers are leaving because of poor working conditions, Schreiber said.

Schreiber was one of the speakers at the day-long meeting sponsored by the District chapter of National Action for Foster Children, with assistance from DHR, area churches and citizens.

Patricia Yates, another DHR official, told the forum that the agency's placement problems were compounded last year after the City Council passed the Child Abuse and Neglect Act. The act requires that the city devise a placement plan for each foster child that will eventually provide permanent home for them. The plan is to go into effect within 18 months after the child enters foster care.

"I think it is good the city is asking us to establish a plan so (children) don't get lost in the system," said Yates. "I've been here 15 years and I've never seen (the problems) so bad," she added.

"We were given a law but not the resources to implement that law. Then when things don't go right (the responsibility) falls on the worker," Schreiber told one workshop.

Schreiber suggested that the Job Corps or even group adoptions, where a number of persons become guardians of a child, may be the most feasible permanent placments for teenagers who don't return home and who remain unadopted.

She said that of the 2,500 children in foster care, approximately 400 are 15 or older.

During the general assembly of the forum, Mary Grayson, president of the D.C. Fosters Parents Association, received an award for her service to foster children.

"I feel very honoured knowing that someone sees some good I've done," Grayson said.

DHR officials presented certificates of appreciation to foster parents. Winners of a foster care poster contest were also honored.

During a panel discussion, foster children and adult leaders talked about foster care. Kevin, 12, said he has learned to "turn the other cheek when somebody puts me down. I used to get up and punch them in the nose. But (in) this discussion group here you begin to understand why you're in your home," he said. The youth has been attending the forum meetings for several years.Text omitted from source said the discussions had taught her about "growing up and being part of the world."

Both Yates and Schreiber attributed the youths' progress and DHR's ability to "keep treading water" despite shortage of personnel to the special talents of the foster parents.

"We approved one lady in her 50s who received Social Security (payments) and lived in public housing," said Yates. "She had raised her own handicapped grandchild and she took a hard-to-place handicapped child. The child is doing wonderfully because (the foster parent) is a beautiful woman."

Yates said there are now more single and working foster parents, and that the requirements for becoming a foster parent are less complicated than most people believe.

To qualify a person must be 21 to 60 years old, live within a 50 mile radius of the district, have a minimum monthly income of 500 and have sufficient housing, she said. In some cases a one bedroom apartment is considered sufficient.

The most carefully considered and demanding requirement, said Yates, is to have "a love for children and a willingness to take in someone else's child and share your home and family with them." For more information on how to become a foster parent, call 727-0894, Yates said.