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Mandy Scritchfield

Foster care kids struggle with food insecurities                  

By Mandy Scritchfield, freshman communication arts major

Janet Wentum is a single mom. But, she’s not your typical mom.

Janet is “mom” to two foster children, two girls ages 4 and 17. She has no kids of her own, but at 50 years old, Wentum has been a foster parent for two years now. She has a love for children, and loves being a foster parent.

Over the past two years, Wentum has had many children come in and out of her home, and each one has been unique. But where their differences end is in each child’s need for proper nutrition.

According to the Foster Care Month website there are about 408,000 children in the foster care system that needs nutrition in order to succeed in school and in life.

For Wentum, nutrition is a very important concern with every visit to the grocery store because she wants to ensure that her children have proper nutrition and good health.

Wentum has had various experiences feeding foster children; some refused to eat and others couldn’t stop.

“Some children just aren’t used to food being there on a regular basis, and some aren’t used to eating much or anything at all. Their bellies grow accustom to one or the other,” said Wentum.

Wentum’s typical grocery list consists of fruits, vegetables, meats and basic things like butter and milk.

“I love healthy foods,” said Wentum. “But I let them have their favorite sweets every now and then with their allowance. I do not have a problem compromising some junk food.”

Although, healthier foods are getting more and more expensive, Wentum said that she does not focus on the amount of money that she is given from the state for her foster children.

Though Wentum receives assistance from the government to defray the costs of caring for the children, she said it’s often not enough to cover the entire food bill. When that happens, Wentum uses her own money to pay the remainder of the bills.

Wentum’s typical grocery bill runs upwards of $500 per month. In addition to caring for her foster children, Wentum also runs a daycare, called Christian Child Cares. She said that she does what she has to do in order to provide food that is good for both the children’s bodies and their minds.

According to Lackawanna County Children and Youth Services’ agencies policy and guidelines for payments, foster parents receive $18 per day for children ages newborn to 12 and $26 per day for children age 13-21. They also receive $60 each month for clothing. For special needs children, allowances can be anywhere from $35 to $100 per day in order for the child to receive the kind of care that he or she needs. Foster parents are also reimbursed for the mileage that it takes for bringing the children where they need to go.

“Foster parents aren’t required to show proof of the food that they buy, only clothing items,” said a social worker from Lackawanna County, who spoke on condition of anonymity. They do, however, have a follow-up visit from a case worker. Foster children are also seen by a doctor regularly and their medical records are shown in court.

While ensuring that foster children have enough to eat is something the foster care agencies are concerned with, the nutritional value of that food is often less of a concern. According to the same Lackawanna County social worker, being fed is the priority.

“When it hits the point of starvation, then it is up to the level of abuse and we step in,” the social worker added. “Malnutrition could be an issue with many cases, but it is not the main reason that a child comes into the system.”

Nutrition is taught in the Dunmore Elementary Center, said school counselor, Amy Ferguson, M.S.

“We have someone talk about the importance of nutrition in the school cafeteria,” said Ferguson.

The school also offers a free breakfast and a free and reduced lunch for all students who need it. Healthy choices are provided in the cafeteria, but it is difficult to control what every child puts on his or her tray.

Normally, foster kids are the ones who need the free and reduced meals, and for that, they will find it difficult to make friends. Ferguson said that typically, children who come from lower income families tend to be “outcasts” and this includes all those in foster care. Furthermore, students are often embarrassed to admit they are hungry or malnourished, making it sometimes more difficult to address the problem.

Wentum added that the age of a child plays a role in how and what he or she eats.“Teenagers are more difficult to provide nutrition for than younger children,” she said. “But I make them eat vegetables. It’s a balancing act.”

For kids in the foster care system, getting the proper nutrition is just one more challenge in their young lives.

“Kids should not have to worry about where their next meal will come from, or have to overindulge in fear that they will never eat again. They should not have to have adult problems. They should be able to just be kids,” said Wentum.

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