The D.C. Department of Human Resources opened a campaign yesterday to recruit foster parents for 30 midly retarded residents of Forest Haven.

DHR director Albert P. Russo told a news conference that this was the first step in a court-ordered procedure that is expected to lead eventually to the closing of the troubled D.C. home for the retaded in Laurel.All 1,042 Forest Haven residents are to be absorbed into a variety of community facilities while also receiving special care.

Russo characterized the foster parent search as "an appeal to D.C. and other local residents to open their hearts and homes" to the retarded.

Officials are concerned that implementation of U.S. District Court Judge John H. Pratt's June 15 order to "deinstitutionalize" Forest Haven will meet community resistance. For this reason, the initial step involves only 30 of the most mildly retarded.

Russo said he could not anticipate how long it might take to find homes for the inmates. "Candidly," he said in reply to a question, "the total deinstitutionalization of all residents of Forest Haven is, in my judgment, one of the greatest challenges the D.C. government and this city are going to face."

However, Vincent Gray, local head of the nationwide Association for Retarded Citizens, said he believes all placed in community-based homes or other facilities "within five or six years."

Gray is a member of the committee that will screen prospective foster parents. Those approved will receive special training and assistance from specialists. They will be paid about $4,000 a year to cover board and other care and be required to sign a one-year contract. A leaflet advised interested individuals or couples to telephone 576-6577.

Fred Perry, acting director of Forest Haven, said that the foster home program was just one of several "alternative living arrangements" under consideration. The residents of the home comprise every level of mental retardation, from mild to severe.A number suffer from physical as well as mental handicaps and will always require intensive, specialized care.

The idea behind Pratt's order which resulted from a class action suit against Forest Haven, is to enable each retarded person to lead as normal a life as possible.

The overall program is to be administered by an expert in developmental disabilities, according to Pratt's order Some 180 persons have applied for the $36,000-a-year position and a selection is to be made by Sept. 1.