Looking Back at Saint Francis Foster Care: Betty Rush Tells the Story
October 2021 · Foster Care / Adoption, Hi-Lites
Thirty years ago, Betty Rush had a vision of how to build services that would help more children and families in Kansas.
And 25 years ago, she made her vision a reality by establishing the first therapeutic foster care program at Saint Francis Ministries.
In May 1996, Betty launched a Saint Francis venture that began to recruit foster parents to help children who needed something extra. They might be children and teens who had been so traumatized that their behaviors were challenging, or children with mental illnesses or disorders like autism – all those kids who needed extra support.
Her determination to begin offering therapeutic foster care came from a simple place: “It was an opportunity to keep kids in a homebased-setting, which is going to be best for them in the long run, no matter what,” Betty said. “They learn how to live and function and be educated and maintain in a family setting, and that’s where you want them to go back to, their birth family for reunification or, if they’re going to be adopted, into an adoptive family.
“Some of those kids had parental rights terminated, but we weren’t going to find an adoptive family for them,” she added. “They needed to be in a home setting so they could launch from a family versus trying to launch from a residential program, because that just doesn’t serve kids well.”
In the beginning, Betty took referrals of families who would be able to provide therapeutic foster care from friends at Kansas Social and Rehabilitation Services (today the Department for Children and Family Services). As the word traveled, some foster families who knew Betty during her time with SRS asked to join the therapeutic program. At that time, the state didn’t offer therapeutic foster homes, and they were excited to have more of those supportive homes available, Betty said.
“Foster families who work in therapeutic care tend to be more experienced families,” she said. “They’re families that are more flexible in terms of the kids they’ll accept, they have very consistent discipline and enormous amounts of patience.”
Betty and a student intern had a small office in one of the buildings at Salina West, Saint Francis’ residential facilities in Salina, Kansas.
“In those days, when you did therapeutic foster care, you were the case manager, the therapist, and you did the individual, the family, the group therapy – whatever it took to support the families and maintain those kids,” Betty said.
The program expanded and Betty added a therapist who had been working at Salina West to the team. Many of the children who came into therapeutic foster care, she said, were coming out of a PRTF, or a Psychiatric Residential Treatment Facility. Some of the older youth had spent half their lives at the Topeka State Hospital, only to be transferred to a PRTF when that facility closed.
By this time, Saint Francis was recruiting, training and licensing new families. It was necessary to offer additional training beyond the required foster care TIPS-MAPP pre-service training, which is 30 hours, to support families taking on children who needed more specialized help.
“We offered and still offer additional training for families willing to serve kids with certain types of behaviors or diagnoses,” Betty said. “If you’re going to take kids who have been sexually abused or sexually traumatized, you need to know what to expect and how to help. That’s true also of the families willing to take youth who have criminal type behaviors.”
Today, there is still a tremendous need for foster care homes that will accept all ages and types of children, from little ones with basic needs to teenagers with high acuity needs. Figuring roughly from waiting list numbers, Betty said there are anywhere from 30 to 40 youth that Saint Francis serves awaiting higher level foster homes.
“Every kid deserves a family,” she said. “They deserve to be with siblings, if they can. It is just about inclusion all the way around.”
DID YOU KNOW?
In 1996, Saint Francis was a Child Placing Agency, but not a Child Welfare Case Management provider. Other private contractors were in need of therapeutic foster homes, not basic level homes. It wasn’t until 2000 that the organization received a contract from the State of Kansas to provide Case Management services, and that is when our foster care homes program expanded into all levels of foster care services.
To read the full version of our Fall 2021 HiLites, click here.