What is Foster Care and How Can I Help in Virginia?
What is Foster Care and How Can I Help?
What is Foster Care?
There are 440,000 children and youth in foster care across the United States. In the Virginia Department of Social Services alone, in 2022, there are 5,000 children in need of a stable and supportive environment. So, what is foster care, and what can you do to help these children?
Foster care is the temporary placement of a child whose been removed from their home and family. This is due to the birth families being unable to care for these children. They may have been abandoned, abused, and/or neglected.
On average, most children enter foster care at eight years old. Though, the majority are teenagers in foster care, as 45% of them are aged 13 and up. Almost 20% of teens in foster care will end up aging out of foster care, with 20% of them becoming homeless immediately. Additionally, 70% of girls become pregnant before 21 years of age.
Virginia is one of the wealthiest states in the United States. However, we are in the 50th in the country for the number of children who age out of the system. These children typically spend the last few years of their youth in group homes.
However, Virginia gives options for further services once the foster child is 18 if they continue to pursue education or a job. This foster care program is called Fostering Futures and is operated by the local department of social services.
Am I the Right Person to be a Foster or Adoptive Parent?
Foster parents lower the number of children affected by these worrying statistics. They are a driving force to stop this tragedy and create a positive difference for these foster youth.
There is a process to becoming a foster parent. You must complete the foster care and adoption training process with the support of your Child Placing Agency (CPA). They will support you through the application, training, and home study process to prepare you to be a foster parent in 90 to 120 days.
The training process may be difficult. It's meant to prepare you for your child's behavior, attachment, and mental health challenges. This behavior will diminish, and your child's welfare will increase once they are given the love and support they need from you.
Once training is complete, you will have options regarding the children you wish to accept for foster care. Your child placement agency assists you with these requests. This can include limits in the child's age, sex, disabilities, sibling groups, etc. However, the fewer constraints you have, the faster the foster care placement agency can place a child with you.
How Can I Help?
There are multiple ways you can aid children in foster care.
There is regular foster care, where you can provide a temporary safe, loving environment to the child.
There is treatment foster care (TFC), where you offer the same environment but also work to provide case management and crisis support. This is for children who have experienced trauma or are medically fragile.
You can provide respite or short-term care to help give other foster parents a break to recharge or rest for up to 29 days.
Then there is the long-term option in which foster or adoptive parents provide for a child until a permanency goal has been established and achieved. This goal can be reunification, or returning home with the parents, which is typically the first choice. The goal could also be placement with relatives, which is referred to as kinship care or adoption.
Finally, you have the option to foster to adopt. During this time, parental rights must be terminated, and the child must be placed as a foster child for at least six months before the adoption process begins.
Any of these options allows you to help improve the lives of those in the foster care system.
What Does Being a Foster Parent Look Like?
When a child gets placed into the foster care agency that meets your requirements, you will be called and told little about the child. You will be allowed to decide whether to foster that child. You are entitled to say no. In this case, the child will either come under your care, or the foster care agency will attempt to find another placement.
Other placements may be more gradual, and there is more time to get the child accustomed to the move. However, you may need to be mentally prepared to take a child at any time once you are licensed.
Like all relationships, there will be good and bad days, beauty and hardships. Many of these children have been through very traumatic experiences during their lives. They may have many scars and habits that they have used to protect themselves during these times. These won't immediately disappear once they are in a stable home.
It may take them a while to adjust and change their behaviors. However, it has been seen repeatedly how these children begin to thrive when given the right environment, stability, and trust. Are you able to offer these children the support that they need?
Thank you for considering fostering teenage, children, and youth in Virginia. The need is great, the rewards are unique, and you will have all the support you need to be successful in this fantastic chapter in your life. Please reflect on what brought you to FosterVA.org and ask for guidance and help.
We have a no-pressure promise if you decide the time is not perfect for you to begin this journey. We are here to listen to your questions and give you great advice.