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COLUMBIA – More than 1,400 children in mid-Missouri are in foster care. The Central Missouri Foster Care & Adoption Association is using new programs to place children in permanent homes.

Private investigators and social workers are involved in what's called the Extreme Recruitment program, and they work to locate family members. Next, they try to match each child with a relative who’s emotionally and logistically prepared to welcome them into their home.

CMFCAA Program Coordinator Sue Engelage said the program’s goal is to optimize children’s chances at finding a permanent home. Extreme Recruitment’s goal is to match 70 percent of children with an adoptive family.

Kelly Shultz and her husband began as foster parents. Since the couple began fostering 12 years ago, they have welcomed seventeen foster children, ranging from 6 days old to 22 years old.

“I’ve gotten to be a football mom, dance mom and I have gotten to be in the hospital with a brand new baby. I have gotten a lot of experiences,” Shultz said.

CMFCAA hopes to use Extreme Recruitment and the 30 Days to Family program to boost the number of permanent placements. 30 days to Family works to find at least 80 relatives in each case and identify at least one relative prepared to take in the child within 30 days.

Engelage said a child’s chances for permanent adoption lower as they grow older. Often the child “ages out” of the system and is never adopted. The average foster child age is 9 years old.

Engelage said the foster process is stressful, yet rewarding.

“Once that kid comes up to you and says, ‘Hey mom’ or ‘Hey, you helped change my life,’ it’s really worth it,” she said.

The real goal of fostering is to, “stabilize families and get kids back home,” Shultz said.

She said it is sad when a foster child leaves.

“The stress of parenting is hard on every couple, but add to the stresses of the system and having kids come into and leave your life,” Shultz said.

But, she said, it is also exciting to watch children reconnect with their biological families and return home. The sacrifice is part of the process, she said.

CMFCAA gives foster and adoptive parents the chance to relieve their stress. The Respite Program provides parents a few child-free hours to run errands or even go on a date while their children play games, eat snacks, go swimming and watch movies.

Shultz said it is great because it provides her kids a community of children with life experiences similar to theirs. Her children can connect with peers at respite and talk about topics they may not have in common with friends at school.

It is extremely important to minimize the number of disruptions in a child’s life, Shultz said. Moving homes, she said, can be extremely stressful.

“Coming into a complete stranger’s home is trauma,” Shultz said. “No matter how nice my house is and no matter how we eat dinner all together and read books and do homework,”

To lower disruptions, many foster parents choose to adopt foster children if the child has no chance of returning to their original home. The Shultz’s have adopted three girls.

Shultz said each foster situation is different. Some children stay at her home for short periods while others stay for years. She said in some cases children leave her house and she and her husband never hear from them again. Others stay in touch.

“Some of my kids reconnect with us because they want tradition, they want stability, they want holidays and celebrations,” Shultz said. “They come back into our lives because they really want a grandparent.”