By Ruth Longoria Kingsland

Grants Pass Daily Courier

Being a mom to more than 100 children is more than most parents would want to imagine. But for foster mom Charlene Watson, it’s been a blessing nearly all of the time.

“I am so proud of her. Oh man, I’m excited,” Watson said last month as she watched one of her foster daughters graduate from North Valley High School.

This made for about a dozen graduations Watson, 64, has attended in the 21 years she has been a foster parent. This particular youth has been in Watson’s care for the past 10 years, and is one of the “success stories” that makes being a foster parent so rewarding, Watson said.

When Watson met her, the girl was in the third grade and the youngest of five siblings, all of whom Watson took into her home.

The oldest sibling was 17 at the time and had been raising his two younger brothers and two younger sisters prior to the youths coming to live with Watson, she said.

These are just a small sampling of the about 280 current foster children in Josephine County, said Bob Hendrick, foster home recruiter and certifier for Oregon Department of Human Services in Grants Pass.

There is a big need for foster homes, he explained, adding that there are about only 140 certified foster homes in the county, and the remainder of the children are staying with relatives.

“There’s not a whole lot of space for the kids who need care,” he said.

To be a foster parent, an applicant must be at least 21 years old; meet income requirements, so the stipend paid for the child’s care is not the household’s only income; pass a criminal background check and safety check on the home; complete a four-week, 20-hour training course; and complete 30 additional hours of training every two years. Applicants also must provide four letters of reference.

Single parents may care for up to four children, including their own. A couple is allowed to care for up to seven children, including their own. Those numbers can be altered slightly in the case of foster-siblings.

Perhaps the most important qualification of a foster parent is being flexible, Watson said.

“It takes somebody who can change plans within an hour, when two or three different things come up,” she said.

Watson said she keeps various sizes of clothing on hand, as many of the children arrive with only the clothes on their backs. She also networks with other local foster parents, so everyone can work together to meet unexpected needs.

Watson, a single mom, raised three girls of her own, all of whom are now adults. She moved to Grants Pass when her daughters were teenagers. Watson also adopted two of the youths she fostered, when they became eligible for adoption.