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Back in the Capitol, O’Laughlin lobbies for foster care resources for her district

As elected officials vacate Jefferson City and return to their families and jobs, The Missouri Times is bringing you updates on initiatives that didn’t quite make it through before May 15. The “Next Steps” series will showcase progress made on certain legislative issues and offer a look ahead to what could come.

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — It’s been more than a month since the legislative session concluded, with lawmakers racing to pass a budget that would meet Missouri’s needs and alleviate the impact of the global health crisis. But even still, state Sen. Cindy O’Laughlin is back in the Capitol trying to find a way to finance what she sees as a surefire way to help children in her district. 

Specifically, O’Laughlin wants to see FosterAdopt Connect, a nonprofit that helps both families and children throughout the fostering process, establish a presence in northeast Missouri. To do that, the Republican lawmaker said she needs to find $500,000. 

FosterAdopt Connect began 20 years ago in Missouri. It is headquartered in Independence with locations in Chillicothe, Poplar Bluff, and Springfield, as well as Lenexa, Kansas. It has partners in central Missouri and the St. Louis area, according to Lori Ross, president and CEO of FosterAdopt Connect. 

O’Laughlin wants to place two resource centers in her district which encompasses the northeast corner of Missouri.

“If we can’t find $500,000 to support kids in northeast Missouri out of a $35 billion budget, something is wrong,” O’Laughlin told The Missouri Times during a recent interview in her Capitol office. 

Getting FosterAdopt Connect to her district was something O’Laughlin pushed for during the legislative session, including during the budget proceedings. But this year’s process was rushed with a focus on the COVID-19 pandemic, and she was ultimately unsuccessful. 

So she’s trying to find the funding in other ways, including through meetings in the capital city.

“The Department of Social Services, Children’s Division recognizes the need for additional locations due to the lack of available resources in our rural areas, but with a budget shortfall and no money allocated, it will be difficult to fund the expansion,” David Wood, the division’s director, said in a statement. 

‘Plugging the gaps’

The 501(c)(3) for FosterAdopt Connect was drawn up two decades ago at the Ross family’s kitchen table with the help of a few foster families. It has since grown into a multi-service, multi-state group that operates what they call “resources centers” to provide a place for “families to come together.” It provides a bevy of services, from providing clothes for children who come to a facility with next to nothing to training services for parents wishing to get into the foster program. 

FosterAdopt Connect also can help with legal or mental health aid for both parents and children. 

“We try to plug the gaps in the system that lead kids to poor outcomes and turn that trajectory around for them so they can become healthy, functioning members of society,” Ross told The Missouri Times. “The goal is also to create longevity for families who want to continue to foster.” 

“In northeast Missouri, there is a significant desert there related to the ability to access things like mental health treatment,” she added. “A lot of those kids go into residential treatment [centers] in larger cities … because they haven’t been able to come up with a resource that would allow them to stay near their community.” 

A resource center would bring a team of three or four people, typically hired from within the community it services. It would start with basic services, but after it’s established, it would add more programs, training, and advocacy programs. 

“The $500,000 would allow us to open two of those centers, targeting Hannibal and Macon as places to base,” Ross said. 

Despite the logjam in the budget process, O’Laughlin remains undeterred. If she can’t find some way to secure the funding this summer, she said she’ll push for it again during next year’s budget proceedings. 

EDITOR’S NOTE: For up-to-date information on coronavirus, check with the CDC and DHSS.