The word "crisis" gets tossed around quite a bit these days. But sometimes it takes a strong word like that to get people's attention.

So here's another crisis: There are not nearly enough foster parents to take care of all the children out there who need a safe place to call home, at least for a little while.

The number of children in the state's foster care system has grown - from 11,500 in 2013 to 16,500 in 2018.

The commissioner of Minnesota Human Services, Tony Lourey, said the need is greater than ever for foster parents to provide temporary, critical care to children in crisis. The good news, he added, is that many people who might not think they qualify to be foster parents are actually eligible.

As part of Foster Care Month in May, Lourey is trying to dispel myths people have about who can or can't play this important role in the lives of children.

"You can be married or single, homeowners or renters, with or without children," Lourey said. "You don't need to have a lot of experience, because we will provide training and offer support along the way. What's most important is a commitment to ensuring children will be safe, loved and well cared for in your home."

Minnesotans considering becoming a foster parent can get more information from the Department of Human Services and its partners: counties, tribes, licensed private agencies and nonprofit organizations.

Potential foster parents need to be licensed and approved, and the licensing process includes a background check and a home study. Training is available online in English and Spanish and in person through the Minnesota Child Welfare Training System. Financial support is also available, as is access to a variety of resources for successful foster parenting.

Other myth-busting facts Lourey shared:

Counties and tribes consider placing foster children safely with relatives first, understanding the importance of preserving family connections. When that is not possible, counties and tribes seek to place children with foster parents of the same race, but that has become increasingly difficult.

While more than 55 percent of youth in foster care in 2017 were non-white, only 30 percent of foster families were non-white.

"Minnesota needs a more diverse pool of foster parents to best meet children's needs," Lourey said. "Foster parents who are African American and American Indian are in especially high demand."

Some children need foster care for a few days, some are in foster homes for years, Lourey said.

The median length of time for children staying in a foster home was 297 days in 2017.

Last year, 58 percent of foster children leaving care were reunited with their birth parents or legal guardians, while 18 percent were adopted and about 11 percent moved in permanently with a relative or other caregiver.

"Our goal is always to return foster children home safely," said Lourey. "In the meantime, we appreciate the many dedicated foster parents who step in to nurture, mentor and guide the children in their care."

The Douglas County's Child Foster Care program has application forms, training requirements and much more information on its website. Go to www.co.douglas.mn.us and search for child foster care or contact Jennifer McLaughlin, jenniferm@co.douglas.mn.us, 320-762-3814.