Need for foster parents still high in South Dakota

By Jackie Hendry

South Dakota Public Broadcasting

Posted 4/19/24

Editor's note: This is the eighth in a series of stories on children that Jackie Hendry, producer and host of South Dakota Public Broadcasting's "South Dakota Focus" will write for South Dakota News …

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Need for foster parents still high in South Dakota


Editor's note: This is the eighth in a series of stories on children that Jackie Hendry, producer and host of South Dakota Public Broadcasting's "South Dakota Focus" will write for South Dakota News Watch. Each month, she previews the upcoming show.

SIOUX FALLS — South Dakota has more children in the foster system than families to care for them. On average, there were more than a thousand children in the system in any given month last year but just over 800 foster families licensed statewide.

Children enter the system for a number of reasons, but the leading causes of foster placement in the state are neglect, parental substance abuse and parental incarceration, according to the National Data Archive on Child Abuse and Neglect.

The shortage of foster families is not a new problem. 

In May 2023, Gov. Kristi Noem launched the Stronger Families Together initiative to highlight the need. In an email, a spokesperson for the Department of Social Services said 2,000 families have reached out for more information since the program’s launch, and 669 families have completed screening and training to become licensed foster care providers.

But the need persists.

“Foster families are needed in all communities across South Dakota, most critically in the western and central parts of the state,” the DSS spokesperson continued. 

Two foster families in the Sioux Falls area — where most foster families in the state are located — share their stories in hopes of encouraging other families to get involved.

Tammy Vande Kamp is a nurse practitioner in the mental health field in Hartford. She and her husband have been foster parents for two years. Like many foster families, the Vande Kamps get regular emails from the Department of Social Services looking for placements for kids with nowhere else to go.

“I mean – we’re full. We have right now four foster children and two biological children living in our home, so we’re at capacity, and it’s sad,” said Vande Kamp.

Vande Kamp often hears prospective foster parents fear getting too attached.

“I used to feel the same way,” she said. “I learned through classes and through the program that we were teaching them how to be attached. We’re trying to teach these children to attach so that when they’re older, when they’re adults, they can attach to other people. They can trust people.”

Vande Kamp said she was sad saying goodbye to her first foster child, but she was also happy to reunify him with his mother. 

“I knew that we gave him the best of us that we could give him, and we gave him a good start for her to then continue on.”

There are several Facebook groups for foster parenting, including one Vande Kamp joined for foster parents in Minnehaha and Lincoln counties. She consistently saw posts asking for a support group for foster parents, so decided to start her own.

The group meets monthly at Tre Ministries in Sioux Falls. She acknowledges it can be a safe place to vent, but it’s mostly an opportunity for foster parents to get advice from each other.

“For me personally, my best resource has been other foster moms who have been in this longer than I have.”

The informal support group is one kind of resource Vande Kamp sees lacking for foster families. She wants to see communities rise to the occasion to serve children in need.

“One thing my children don’t need more of is toys…They need people,” she said. “They need other adults in their lives who can be positive role models. And certainly the Native American population of children need positive Native American role models.”

Native American children made up 74% of children in the state foster system as of May 2023. The federal Indian Child Welfare Act prioritizes placing Native children with relatives or other Native families. But of the 808 state-licensed foster families in South Dakota last year, just 86 were Native American.

Brandy and Scott Louwagie of Sioux Falls were one of those families.

Brandy is a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. They’ve been fostering for 10 years and have almost exclusively had Native children placed with them. 

“The responsibility that comes with being an ICWA home is just making sure those children, if they’re connected with their culture, to continue that connection,” said Brandy. 

Brandy and Scott work for Daktronics, and both travel frequently for their role. One resource they rely on is child care.

“If we didn’t have child care, there’s absolutely no way we could foster,” she said.

Like other foster families, the Louwagies regularly receive emails and phone calls about children who need a place to stay.

“Our licensing person just came in to relicense us,” Brandy said. “She says, ‘I know your hands are full, but can you take on more kids?’ And we’re like, we can’t…But she said, ‘We have so many children who need a placement.’”

The Louwagies also hear prospective foster parents worry about the time commitment or that they would get too attached to kids they’d ultimately return back to their families.

“We are so busy all the time,” said Brandy, gesturing to Scott. “I mean, we have sports, doctors’ visits, both of us travel — so pretty much one of us is always doing almost everything. And the thing is, yeah, the kids are what you love. That’s the only reason we do foster care is because of the kids.”

How to watch 'South Dakota Focus' on SDPB

The next episode of "South Dakota Focus" airs on April 25 at 8 p.m. CDT/7 p.m. MDT. It can be viewed on SDPB-TV 1, Facebook, YouTube and

The episode includes: 

  • Stories from two former foster children who aged out of the child welfare system
  • Stories from foster families about their challenges and what keeps them motivated to care for children
  • The state Legislature's creation of the Indian Child Welfare Advisory Council within the Department of Social Services