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'Help A Human Being Out:' The Foster Family Shortage West River
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There’s a real need across the state for more families to adopt and foster children.

The demand is most acute in west river counties. A smaller population base means fewer potential homes for kids in need. And that can mean a child travels miles away from what’s familiar for a new temporary home.

Right now there are more than 950 kids in the state’s foster care system and 70 children who are available for adoption.

Governor Kristi Noem designated November as adoption awareness month.

It’s dinner time at the Hornick’s and the table is full. It’s Chris and Sara and four kids. One biological, one adopted and two foster children.

Ten years ago, after their daughter was born, they tried to have more children.

“We went through five years of fertility, a lot of doctors’ appointments, a lot of needles, a lot of pills, trying to get pregnant. Then, we were told it wasn’t going to happen.”

Adoption was always something they had in mind. Sara says it’s been part of both of their families.

“My grandparents adopted my birth mom, my uncles and my aunt,” Sara Hornick says. “It was always a plan of ours. A lot of Chris’ family is adopted too. He’s got cousins from Russian and cousins from India. So, it was always a plan of ours that we wanted to adopt.”

After fertility treatments failed, they started researching adoption more closely. But discovered a major hurdle.

“Honestly, when we looked at the cost of it… it was 20 to 30 thousand dollars minimum to adopt,” Sara says.

They looked at other paths to adoption. Sara was working for Lutheran Social Services at the time. She says during their fertility nightmare, her co-worker across the hall was the foster care and adoption specialist.

So, four years ago they decided to start fostering children. It wasn’t a part of their plan, but they decided to try it out. Chris says it aligns with their beliefs.

“You can vote for someone and say you’re making a difference, you can donate money,” Chris Hornick says. “But if you really want to make a difference in the world you can help a kid out. You can help a human being out.”

Chris says foster care is something that makes a difference in the community’s back yard… sometimes literally.

“Two of our first foster kids, it was early, maybe like our third or fourth foster kid, were from a block away from our old house where we lived in Rapid City. We knew who their grandparents were. We knew them. Very good people," Chris says. "There’s such a need for this.”

While the need exists statewide, the need is higher in west river.

Jill Jensen is a foster care social worker for Lutheran Social Services in Sioux Falls. She says there are more potential placements for foster children in Sioux Falls, because it’s a bigger city. But Jensen says moving across the state can be tough on a child.

“They’re leaving their primary area of origin and they’re being transitioned into a new community and that’s a sense of loss,” Jensen says. “Because we have a shortage of homes in Rapid City, so they’re coming out here to families in Sioux Falls. So, we have to be more creative in how do we maintain their bond with their primary family that’s still out in Rapid, even though they’re residing here with a foster family.”

According to the Department of Social Services geographically, there are 165 foster families west river and 691 families east river. Laurie Gills is the secretary of the Department of Social Services. She says the state’s western counties need more foster families.

“We are continuing the push to get that word out that if it moves you, if it moves something in your heart to check into this a proceed with gathering information. We’re here to give that information to you and answer questions,” Gill says.

During her first state of the state address, Governor Kristi Noem said while state agencies can raise awareness about adoption and foster care, the state can’t create more families for these kids.

“We need more parents, more families, more South Dakotan’s to raise their hands and say, ‘Yes, I’ll be a foster parent. I agree, every child deserves a home,’” Noem says. “Those kids that need to be adopted, they should have permanent families as well.”

A family can get assistance for costs like legal fees, daycare and healthcare following adoption.

That was something Sara Hornick says they didn’t know until their adoption day.

“For our son, what a gift to him that he still gets some of these services,” Sara Hornick says. “We assumed when we adopted him it was… ‘He’s your son now, everything is yours.’ That day was a really surprising day.”

The Hornick’s say fostering is still a part of their lives, it’s a part of who they are and their family.

Above their dining room table, a sign says ‘Be Present and Show Gratitude.’

Chris says they do just that, every night when they’re eating dinner. It’s a tradition they started after their fourth foster kid. The child was in a new home, going to a new school, and stressed out.

“Sitting at the dinner table and everyone is talking about how bad their day was, so we ask, ‘What is the best part of your day? What’s something you’re thankful for? What was the highlight of your day?’ It’s amazing when how those three little things will change a kids life, because they know they have to show up and say these three things. And just to think for a moment something you’re thankful for. Things that are good in their life. In the repeated bout effect, it works.”

Sara says it’s not easy being a foster parent, but there is such joy in doing it.

“My favorite things ever is we took a 16 year old Easter egg hunting for the first time. We took an eighteen-year-old sledding for the first time. Someone’s first thanksgiving meal, and they were a teenager. The first time Santa’s ever come to the house,” Sara says.

Sara and Chris Hornick say sharing some of those firsts with the children in their home, make fostering and adoption worthwhile.