North Homes Children & Family Services

In honor of National Foster Care Month we are catching up with a few SAM clients to learn about their unique missions and impact on the foster care system.

Today we feature North Homes Children & Family Services - a nonprofit focused on community-based care.

North Homes heads a multitude of programs for foster care, adoption, in-home family services, residential treatment, outpatient chemical dependency, and outpatient mental health, among others.

Steve Smuk, Adoptive / Foster Home Licensor and SAM Administrator for North Homes, shared with us a bit about the work his organization does for youth and families in the foster care system.

How did you wind up working in this role?

Steve Smuk, Adoptive / Foster Home Licensor and SAM Administrator for North Homes

I previously worked as a case manager at a juvenile center for 17 years prior to accepting this licensing position at North Homes in 2015. I’ve worked with at-risk youth throughout my entire professional career so this was another opportunity to continue that work in a different capacity.

Tell us a little bit about how your agency supports youth in the foster system

I think that one of the greatest assets of our agency is the continuum of care that we are able to utilize. Our in-house services range from adoption/foster care to residential treatment including a full spectrum of mental health services that are available to all of the children we work with.     

What challenges does your agency face as a part of your foster care program?

The ongoing recruitment of foster homes that are willing and able to work with children that suffer from mental health issues.  Another challenge that our program faces is the current way that reimbursement is calculated for foster providers.  Because the rate that they receive does not always cover the cost of care, foster providers are unable to be stay-at-home parents as they may have been in the past.  In many cases, they will obtain jobs outside of the home to cover the extra expenses; however, the needs of certain youth could potentially cause foster providers to leave work or miss a significant amount of time.  The unfortunate byproduct of this is that their job performance may suffer.

What is one thing you wish the public understood about foster care?

I wish the public was aware of how many children were in need of foster care. There is a severe shortage of available foster homes throughout MN.

Often times, foster children are automatically characterized as being ‘bad kids’ by the general public. What many people don’t understand is that foster children are unable to control the environment that they were born into and it is not their fault that their parents/guardians are facing challenges in their lives that negatively affect their ability to provide appropriate care for them.  
— Steve Smuk, North Homes

How has foster care changed in the past 15 years?

Over the years, licensing requirements have become more stringent, which is absolutely necessary. However, it does tend to scare perspective foster parents from seeking licensure. In addition, the youth coming into foster care have displayed more severe behaviors and mental health issues at younger ages.

How is technology helping (or hurting) work in foster care?

Technology makes it possible to do more work with less time, so in that regard it is a wonderful tool to have at your disposal.  One potential negative aspect of utilizing technology is that you have to remember to also maintain a personal relationship with the professionals that are involved in your cases (Example: Holding face to face meetings instead of using emails).  

What are your hopes for the future of foster care?

I would have to say that the primary objective for all of us in this field is to have enough available homes to meet the needs of foster care placements in the areas we serve. In a perfect world, we would have a large enough supply of willing and experienced providers that could meet the demand for children that are in need of a safe and loving foster home.