Officials: Summer camps help fight foster care 'stigma'

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HASTINGS, Neb. (KSNB) - With an alarmingly high rate of children being put into the state's foster care system, a local organization is looking to send these kids to summer camps.

Royal Family Kids Camp and Teen Reach Adventure Camp hosted a chili cook-off fundraiser on Sunday at the Adams County Fairgrounds to help raise funds and awareness about the benefits of the camps.

Royal Family Kids Camp Co-Director, Luke Kliewer, said parents are encouraged to take this leap of faith because fostering requires the guardian to "go all in" to help these children overcome the stigma sometimes associated with foster care.

"When it comes to seeing a child come from a state of helplessness to a state of overcoming their adversities and being able to go out and conquer the world and see that they are worth something, see that they have value, see that they are loved and they're not what people have told them- what society has told them, what the state has told them," he said. "They are value, they are royalty and they are beautiful. That was our call because we're still crazy enough to believe we can change the world."

He and his wife have co-directed Royal Family Kids Camp and participated for 23 years. As a former foster child himself, he knows the importance of finding help for these kids. His family has also fostered and adopted children.

"It's not about what's easy, it' about what's doing right. Right now, we have 400,000 kids in foster care in the United States," he said. "We have 100,000 that could be adopted today. Nebraska takes kids out of their homes at twice the rate of the national average, so we have a big problem on our hands when it comes to foster care."

According to the most recent statistics from the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, there were 3,145 children in out-of-home care in the state as of June 2015.

The report adds most of them had experienced a "significant level of trauma prior to their removal from the parental home."

A local psychologist said the camps offer a unique avenue to help the kids build confidence and a sense of security with healthy relationships.

"And so we've got kids who you know are in distress- who show it [and] who talk about it- and then you've got kids who hold it in and haven't even been identified yet because they haven't had the avenue to express what they're experiencing," Dr. Sarah Griess said. "It's an opportunity to come together with other kids who have also struggled, which takes a lot of the stigma of what these kids have experienced and just allows them to come together in a known environment that's stress-free [and] worry-free, where they don't have to come and be parents."

Royal Family Kids Camp serves about 60 kids from ages 6 to 11. Teen Reach takes 48 kids ages 12 to 15.

The good-will donations and money spent on raffle prizes and the chili cook-off Sunday go toward the group's fundraising goal of $70,000 to $80,000 each year to host the two camps.

To learn more about fostering in your area, visit http://dhhs.ne.gov/children_family_services/Pages/foc_focindex.aspx.