County hopes to launch new foster families program

Anoka County is hoping to tap into grant dollars to launch a new program for foster children and foster parents in the county.

The Anoka County Board, on the recommendation of its Human Services Committee, has authorized submission of a grant request of up to $20,000 to the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation through its Connect for Health Challenge initiative.

Under this competitive application, grants of up to $20,000 will be awarded to projects that build or strengthen social connections in low-income communities, according to information presented to the Human Services Committee.

The grants will be awarded in August for September implementation.

“I like to be optimistic,” said Laurel Hoff, county director of community health and environmental services.

“I think we have put an interesting idea out there and we are pretty excited about applying for the grant.”

There are 131 foster care providers in Anoka County and some 500 foster children in the county, a large proportion from low-income families, according to Hoff.

Under the county’s grant proposal, the community health and environmental services (CHES) department would partner with the county’s child foster care program to organize and put in place a Passport to Parks project.

This project would provide an opportunity for foster parents and children to regularly gather in city and county parks or other green space to socialize and receive health education.

The proposal would promote healthy eating – a meal would be served – and physical activity and increase awareness of the parks and green space in the county as well as the county’s website, Hoff said.

According to its website, Go Anoka County is an online resource filled with information that identifies opportunities to engage in physical activity, such as biking or walking for transportation, exercising for pleasure, playing in the park and finding public recreation opportunities and facilities.

“We will be promoting, the interactive mapping website, as a resource,” Hoff said.

All Anoka County foster parents will be invited to take part in the Passport to Parks program and participants will receive an Anoka County parks pass as an incentive.

Monthly gatherings with a health education theme would take place under the proposed program with interested families receiving a monthly invitation.

According to the staff information presented to the Human Services Committee, a CHES staff member will provide related healthy living tips, related resources and a discussion topic.

Themes may include dental health, preparing healthy meals and snacks, physical activity recommendations for youth and healthy sleeping habits.

“Strong relationships with friends and neighbors help children and families to be more involved in their communities, perform better in school and live healthier lives,” the staff report states.

“In contrast, the absence of social connectedness is considered a risk factor for multiple chronic diseases, including obesity, high blood pressure, cancer and diabetes.

“The effect of social isolation on health has an impact on all of us and occurs regardless of socio-economic status, age, gender or race, but the negative impacts of social isolation appear most among disenfranchised communities, including low-income families.”

Peter Bodley is at [email protected]