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As Father’s Day nears, what’s it like to be a foster parent in Nevada?

FILE - In this Feb. 9, 2005, file photo, shows the suburbs of Las Vegas from atop the Stratosphere tower looking west down Sahara Ave., towards the Spring Mountains.
Joe Cavaretta
FILE - In this Feb. 9, 2005, file photo, shows the suburbs of Las Vegas from atop the Stratosphere tower looking west down Sahara Ave., towards the Spring Mountains.

We all want our kids to grow up healthy, both physically and mentally. Among the many keys to that growth are attentive, safe parents.

But what about kids who have become wards of the state, like those in the foster care system? At any given time in Clark County, more than 3,000 kids need temporary foster care.

Yet, at the same time, the number of foster parents are declining. From 2018 to 2022, licensed foster homes in Nevada fell by 42%.

Shelby Riley, a rural foster care recruiter with Nevada DHHS’s Division of Child and Family Services, said COVID impacted every facet of the fostering process.

“Our housing market was just crazy,” she recalled, “so, we saw a lot of our longtime foster homes leave the area or move into housing where foster parenting wasn't going to be possible for them anymore. … And so we've just seen a natural progression of people do their time as foster homes and move on to other things. But, at the same time during the pandemic, we were closed off to the public. So, we weren't doing a lot of recruiting to get new homes into our system.”

The pandemic also had an especially tangible effect on rural areas of the state, causing the number of licensed foster homes in remote counties to fall by half, from around 220 to 100.

“Two things that really impacted this were adequate access to childcare and flexible work policies,” Riley said. “We know that rural Nevada is a childcare desert. And we also know that most of our families are now two-parent working households. So, it's super important that communities in Nevada are able to be flexible enough so that people are allowed to be foster parents outside of their full-time jobs.”

The complexity, and length, of the foster care and adoption process is why nonprofits like Raise the Future exist, to connect foster parents with children in need of a home.

Christie Johnson, a youth connections advocate with Raise the Future, said that she tries to approach the matching process in a way that will benefit the child long-term.

“My goal is to find relatives, blood relatives, or fictive kin,” said Johnson. “Someone who is close to the family — whether that's a teacher or a family friend — that knows the youth to try to be there in support of that youth.”

Raise the Future estimates that it’s placed 10,780 children with pre-adoptive homes since 1983. On top of that, from 2020 to 2022, 313 youth have exited foster care into permanent homes with the help of the organization.

One such permanent home is that of Manny Murrillo, an airman who moved to Las Vegas in 2003. He said he was inspired to become a foster father after learning that he and his wife wouldn’t be able to have biological children.

Ever since he was placed with his daughter, Kimmy, two years ago, Murrillo said he's enjoyed learning how to be a dad.

“This is something that's a whole new experience,” he said. “I started off with an 11-year-old child, [which is] kind of like preteens, so just kind of [getting] thrown in there!”

Murrillo hopes that this Father’s Day will be the last as Kimmy’s foster father. Next year, he says he wants to spend it as her adoptive dad.

“We're hoping that we'll be able to do [the adoption] here in late July or early August,” he said. “We do have a choice of if we want to do it in person at the courthouse or do it on Zoom. I want to make it a big event, so I hope to do it in court and bring as many family and friends as possible.”

Guests: Christie Johnson, youth connections advocate at Raise the Future; Shelby Riley, rural foster care recruiter, Nevada DHHS’s Division of Child and Family Services; Manny Murrillo, foster father helped by Raise the Future

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