~ May is National Foster Care Month ~
By: J. Chevonte’ Alexander
Trauma, abuse, loss. Experiencing these situations as an adult is hard enough, but, imagine being a child in those unfortunate circumstances, alone and without a home or family to turn to. This is the reality for thousands of children in crisis across the Greater Richmond area. Fortunately, making the ultimate difference in the lives of these youth are foster parents.
“Every child needs stability, guidance and hope,” comments Nadine Marsh-Carter, President/CEO of Children’s Home Society of Virginia. “Foster care parents are exceptional people and are critical to filling that void in a child’s life until they reach the goal of permanency. Children transfer better when they have been in the care of committed, responsive and loving foster parents.”
There are more than 4,000 children in Virginia’s foster care system, and more than 1,300 of those are available for adoption right now. Unfortunately, Virginia ranks worst in the country for the percent of children who age out of foster care without being adopted.
“As a Nation, we have no task more important than ensuring our children grow up healthy and safe. It is a promise we owe to the hundreds of thousands of youth in foster care — boys and girls who too often go without the love, protection, and stability of a permanent family. This month, we recommit to giving them that critical support, and we recognize the foster parents and professionals who work every day to lift up the children in their care toward a bright, productive future.” – President of the United States of America, Barack Obama (Presidential Proclamation- National Foster Care Month, 2013)
Click here to view the entire 2013 National Foster Care Month Presidential Proclamation
May is National Foster Care Month. Every day, nationwide, some 513,000 children and youth are living in foster care because their own parent cannot take care of them. We must address the needs of these children who need a stable and secure home until they can either return to their parents or establish a lifelong connection to a nurturing adult. This month we want to honor those who give of themselves and encourage others to consider giving of themselves in this selfless way.
National Foster Care Month in May provides an opportunity for people nationwide to get involved as foster parents, volunteers, mentors, employers or in other ways. This month is also an opportunity to show appreciation for the dedication of the foster families who care for these children and youth, and the social workers who support them.
Foster Care Month originated in 1988 when the National Foster Parent Association persuaded then-Senator Strom Thurmond to introduce a resolution to proclaim May as National Foster Care Month. The first President Bush issued an annual proclamation during each year of his presidency, providing an impetus for state, county and city proclamations. The main focus of the early efforts was appreciation and recognition of the tremendous contribution of foster parents daily.
VIDEO: National Foster Care Month
There are several local organizations in Richmond that are actively working to place children in homes. The Commonwealth Catholic Charities (CCC) Foster Care Program has been around for 30 years helping youth and families in the area. They work with refugee and undocumented children and domestic children as well.
“Fostering is pretty critical,” says Jeanne Weare, LCSW Foster Care Program Manager at CCC. “We always need families. We have more kids than we do families.”
The CCC works to recruit families, help them along the approval process to include background checks, home visits and more to help identify great families who will be a great match for the children.
“Please do not be scared. We need families,” comments Graham Sellors, Director of Marketing at CCC. “People can offer so much more than they think. These children need care, love and attention, so we encourage people to please come forward.”
Take the First Step
A treatment foster parent is part of a team that works together to make a difference in the life of a child who is experiencing emotional, behavioral, and social problems. The foster parent takes part in setting goals for the child and works closely with the child’s social worker and counselor to help the child reach those goals. Parents receive extensive pre-service training and ongoing in-service training. They have frequent contact with social workers as well as 24-hour on-call support.
Typically, the children in treatment foster care are experiencing a variety of emotional, behavioral, and social problems due to some type of abuse and/or neglect in their past. TFC children have been identified as needing more professional support and treatment than they would be offered in regular foster care, but do not need to be in the more restrictive environment of a residential treatment facility or group home. Many of these children have challenging behaviors and require a high level of supervision.
Foster parents must be at least 25 years of age and have some degree of experience in working with children. It is important for foster parents to have a flexible schedule so they can actively participate in all aspects of their treatment and supervision. Our children need foster parents to make a commitment until the goal of permanency is achieved.
This handsome young man does not know what it’s like to be a part of a family, but is eager to find out. Jeremiah has big dreams of owning his own business one day and knows he can’t achieve his goals without the right supports in place. The most important support would be a place to call “homebase.” Jeremiah would love to go to college and he understands how important this will be in getting to where he wants to be in life.
Jeremiah is a junior in high school and is passionate about basketball, track and theater. Like any other teenager his age, he enjoys hanging out with friends and social networking. Jeremiah is also interested in fashion marketing and the culinary arts.
Even though Jeremiah will be graduating next year and has tangible goals set, he needs the stability, guidance, love and support a forever family can offer.
Children usually do return home or are placed with a relative, and foster parents must assist the professionals in working toward that goal. Sometimes children cannot return to their family and parental rights are terminated. When that happens, the foster parents are usually given the first opportunity to adopt.
Foster parents are reimbursed for a child’s room and board each month at a rate that is based upon the child’s age. In addition, parents may be paid a monthly enhanced maintenance payment for the additional daily supervision requirements of the child. We also reimburse parents for some transportation to required meetings related to the child’s care. The child’s medical expenses are covered through Medicaid.
For more information on how you can advocate for kids in foster homes, how you can adopt, and foster care in Virginia, please visit the Virginia Department of Social Services, www.dss.virginia.gov.
It’s Never Too Late
Virginia also ranks second to last in the average time it takes to be adopted. Children age out of the public foster care system between 18 and 21. They may stay in care between 18 and 21 provided they meet criteria outlined by the state Department of Social Services, such as staying in school and/or having a job. Age 21 is the maximum age. After age 18, children can voluntarily leave care as well — and they have a 3-month grace period to return to care. Many children at age 18 are not fully equipped or prepared for an independent adult life, especially without family support.
When a child ages out of the foster care system, not only does the child suffer, but the community suffers as a whole as well. In 2011, 11 percent of the children (over 26,000) exiting foster care aged out of the system. Research has shown that teens aging out of the system are highly likely as adults to experience homelessness, poor health, unemployment, incarceration, and other poor outcomes.
1 in 4 children never adopted are incarcerated within at least two years after exiting the system.
1 in 5 children never adopted are homeless within two years after exiting the system.
1 in 6 children never adopted never graduate from high school.
The statistics are indeed staggering, but as a community let’s turn these facts into motivation to change things. Let’s turn trauma, abuse and loss into hope, care and love. We appreciate our current foster parents and want to motivate others to get out there and make a difference in the community.
Cassie is an optimistic, outgoing 16-year-old who has a beautiful and contagious smile. She is described as pleasant, soft spoken, polite, and nice to chat with. Almost instantly, upon first meeting, you will want to get to know her more and you will want to help her.
Cassie enjoys all things girly, like getting her nails done and being pampered. She enjoys spending time with her friends and talking on the phone. Even though Cassie is a teenager, she just became a mommy to a baby boy, yet she still yearns to be adopted to have a family of her own for her and her son. She would love to be adopted by a family who will treat her like a daughter and also allow her to be a mom to her son. Even though Cassie just became a parent, she still needs loving, stable, and consistent parenting. Cassie is open to a one- or two-parent home.
Happy Foster Care Month!
Upcoming Community Events
Join the Children’s Home Society of Virginia on Saturday, May 10, 2014 at 9 a.m. at Deep Run Park to support their mission to find permanent adoptive families for all children. Register online at www.chsva.org. Online registration closes Wednesday, May 7 at 12 midnight.
“Foster parents are an extraordinary breed of people,” says Marsh-Carter. “We need strong foster care parents to provide a healthy family and great life for these children. Foster care parents can make the difference.”