Saturday, July 22, 2017  

Northern Neck Foster Parent Program
Put a smile on the face of a child  

Imagine you are six; you get off the school bus and go inside your home. No one is there. It’s no big deal really. Your parents told you that they wouldn’t be home and you know where the snacks are. You find something to eat and go watch TV. Around 8:00 o’clock that night the neighbor notices that the lights are on, but there is no car in the drive. She stops by to check on you. You tell her you are fine and she returns home. You continue watching TV. As 9:30 rolls around you are too sleepy to keep your eyes open and take yourself to bed, right after you finish brushing your teeth. You’re big now. You can handle this. At 11:00 pm there is a knock on the door. It’s loud and wakes you up. You freeze. You don’t know what to do. It can’t be your parents because they have the key. Did you remember to lock the door? The knock comes again, this time even louder. What do you do? Now you don’t feel so grown up and desperately wish your mom and dad were home. You start to cry.

What the six year old doesn’t realize is that the neighbor has been watching the house since about 7:00 pm. She knew he was home alone and swore this time she was going to do something about it. For goodness sake, what if there were a fire, or he hurt himself. He’s too young to be left alone. That evening instead of going to bed, she called the Department of Social Services. She went out to greet the social worker as she came down the drive to talk to the little boy. When he came to the door scared and crying, she knew she had done the right thing. He had acted so grown up when she went and checked on him earlier. Now he was every bit of six years old.

This is a classic case of neglect. Abuse and neglect are the primary reasons children come into foster care. It happens to children of all ages; 6, 11, 16 or even infants. Some foster care placements are voluntary, where the parents don’t feel they can properly care for their child, but the majority are court ordered due to neglect or abuse.

The Northern Neck Foster Parent Program was founded in 2001. At that time it served Lancaster, Northumberland, Richmond, and Westmoreland Counties. Essex County joined the program in 2008. The program now serves Essex, Lancaster, Northumberland, Richmond, and Westmoreland counties. These five counties decided that since the need was so great, yet the funds so limited, it would be best to pool resources and hire a Foster Parent Coordinator whose primary job is to recruit, train, and support foster parents. The goal of this program is to increase the number of foster homes, especially those willing to accept teen placements, decrease the number of out of area placements, and reduce the number of multiple placements for foster children.

With these goals in mind the program is actively recruiting new foster parents. The act of taking a child out of his/her home is very disruptive to the child. Placing the child in a different community is even more disruptive. This is what is happening right now.
There is a shortage of homes for foster children in our community and they must be placed outside of the community. When this happens, the children not only lose daily contact with their parents, pets, and even sometimes siblings, they also lose their daily interactions with their friends, teachers, and other support networks. By placing children within the community it allows them to continue to have contact with their parents, siblings, and friends and can be much less disruptive to the child.

The need for foster homes is even greater in our community because some children must be placed in group facilities simply because a foster home willing to take them is unavailable. It is believed that children are more successful when placed with a family versus being placed in a group setting. Not only do the children receive more time and attention, but they benefit from learning appropriate family roles and by forming positive relationships within a family. If a child is taken out of an abusive home, being placed in a loving, nurturing environment can help them break the cycle more so than being placed in a group home where they may not get to witness this healthy family dynamic.

At this time our region only has 19 foster homes for children. Currently, we have 46 children in foster care. Of these 46 children, a majority are over the age of twelve. This shows the growing need for foster homes willing to accept older children and teenagers.

If you are interested in stepping up to the plate to fill this great need, we have some information on how to get involved and what responsibilities it will entail. First you should contact the Foster Parent Coordinator for your region. In Essex, Lancaster, Northumberland, Richmond, and Westmoreland Counties, this would be Georgia Sprague. She can be reached Monday through Thursday by telephone at (804) 580-3477, or toll free at (800) 296-7627. If she is unavailable, you may ask to speak to her supervisor, Kim Moody.

Before a child can be placed in a foster home, the prospective foster parents must complete the application process and a pre-service training. They must also complete four in-service trainings per year. Once a child is placed in your home, you are responsible for working closely with the child’s social worker to make sure the child’s needs are being met. Whether they are medical, educational, or psychological needs, it is one of the foster parents’ responsibilities to make sure these needs are brought to the attention of the social worker and taken care of.

Once a foster child is placed in a foster home, the foster parent receives a small monthly maintenance payment to help offset the cost associated with raising a child. The foster child’s medical, dental, and daycare cost will be the responsibility of the Department of Social Services. Another responsibility for foster parents is to provide a safe, nurturing, stable, and loving environment for the child to live and thrive in. The foster parent will also provide valuable insight on what is to happen to the child after foster care. If the permanency plan calls for the child to return home to his parents, you will need to understand the need for family visits and will need to assist the child in preparing for these visits. If the child is to be adopted, the foster parent will be responsible for helping prepare the child for this transition.

This may seem like a major undertaking, because it is. But, luckily, the Foster Parent Program has many services available to help support you once you have accepted a foster child into your home. There are people available, like the social worker and Foster Parent Coordinator, who will help you every step of the way, from placement to the time the permanency plan is carried out. They will work with foster parents to ensure they have the proper tools for problem solving and be there in general to provide support.

The responsibilities of being a foster parent can be far outnumbered by the benefits of bringing a child into your home and helping to shape the rest of his/her life. As with any parent, a foster parent can make a huge impact just by the love and attention they give to a child. If you have a desire to nurture a child who needs a safe place to live, if you feel called to care for children who have lived through difficult experiences, if you think it is the right time to open your heart and home to these children, consider becoming a foster parent. Call Georgia Sprague today at (804) 580-3477, or toll free at (800) 296-7627.