The foster care system was originally designed as a temporary measure to care for children whose parents were unable to care for them safely. Sometimes it is in the child’s best interest to be removed from his or her biological family because of abuse, neglect, abandonment, or an unhealthy/unsafe environment. Across the United States, one of the top reasons for child removal is the opioid epidemic. Foster care Virginia was not created to be a long-term solution; however, the length of time a child spends in foster care varies and is greatly dependent on the resources the family has to better themselves and their child’s original environment. Reunification with family is the ultimate goal and every effort is made to assist the parents in taking the appropriate steps to fix the offending situation. According to the 2019 statistics graph by UMFS.org and the Virginia Department of Social Services (DSS), “There are over 5,300 children in foster care in Virginia. 59% of children in Virginia foster care are Caucasian. 30% are African-American, and 10% Hispanic. 1,600+ foster children in Virginia are waiting for adoptive families. 30% of children in Virginia foster care are adopted, many times by their foster parents. 45% of the children in foster care are 13 years and older. The average stay in foster care is 20 months. 18% of children who exit Virginia foster care each year age out at 18. 20% of teens who age out of foster care will become instantly homeless. 70% of the young women who age out of foster care become pregnant before 21.”
Virginia has one of the highest rates of youth aging out of the system
The Commonwealth of Virginia is ranked 49th out of 50 states for the rate that youth age out of the foster system, meaning they leave the foster system without a permanent family. The Children’s Home Society of Virginia (CHSVA) attribute the ranking to the fact that “Virginia has a higher percentage of older youth in foster care (21%) than the nation as a whole (16%). Sadly, older youth are adopted at a much lower rate than young children. Additionally, Virginia is one of only 9 states that is organized as a state-supervised, locally-administered department of social services. The vast majority of states are state-administered social services. The downside to having a locally administered social services system is that there tend to be lower adoption rates due in part to fewer resources available and less innovation.” It is very clear that there is a great need for people to be willing to fill the gaps for these innocent lives.
There are three ways to get involved with foster care in Virginia
1.) Foster parenting is when a family provides a temporary home to a child whose parents may be working to regain custody. Whenever possible, reunification with the child’s biological parents is ALWAYS the goal of foster care; thus, not all children in foster care are (or ever will be) available for adoption.
2.) Adopting from foster care is when a family adopts a child who is legally available for adoption. To become legally available for adoption, the biological parents’ rights have had to be terminated. If this happens, every attempt at reunification has been exhausted, and there is no way the birth parents will ever regain custody of the child.
3.) Fostering to adopt is when foster parents choose to foster a child with the hope that one day they will be able to permanently adopt that child.
Requirements to become a foster parent in Virginia
In order to properly care for these 5,000+ children, a large number of qualified foster families are needed. Foster parenting is complex and places special demands on the foster parents; however, Virginia DSS provides training and support to those who are called to undertake the challenge. The prerequisites for foster parenting for foster care Virginia are fairly simple. The applicant must be at least 18 years old, have a valid driver’s license, have a stable form of income (without government assistance), and be able to pass all background checks. You must also be able to pass a home study, which explores your home, finances, family history, family dynamics/characteristics, core values/strengths, and parenting styles. Virginia DSS has no marriage requirements and allows for foster parents to be “single, married, divorced, or widowed. The Commonwealth of Virginia does not preclude a person from being a foster parent based solely on their culture, religion, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, affectional orientation, or marital/civil union, or domestic partnership status. The important thing is their willingness and ability to parent.” There are even some considerations made for those may have a criminal offense in their background. “It depends on the nature, severity of the offense, and length of time that has passed since the conviction. Applicants with barrier crimes cannot be approved as a foster parent.” (Barrier crimes, as specified by the Virginia Department of Health, are certain felony and misdemeanor convictions that bar or prohibit employment in nursing homes, home care organizations [like foster parenting], and hospice.) Provided that applicants are able to pass the basic requirements, they should be approved to become a foster parent in Virginia in three to six months after the initial application.
Assistance for foster parents of children in foster care Virginia
The need for foster parents is always great. If you choose to walk this path, remember that you will not venture alone. The Commonwealth of Virginia has 120 local departments of social services (LDSS) and over 300 private child-placing agencies that will eagerly assist you as you accomplish the prerequisites and help you prepare to foster a child in need. You are not bound to an agency in a particular location until you have signed the agreement with that agency. As with anything, research your options before you sign an agreement. It is wise to consider whether you are physically, emotionally, and financially able to care for infants, young children, older children, or children with special needs. You should also determine if you are able to accommodate sibling groups.
Ability to transport for medical visits is also something to think about. Also, you should consider the number of children that you can adequately care for. Your home study will determine the actual physical number the social worker feels you can accommodate, but foster care Virginia regulations will allow for no more than eight children in one home. No matter the age of the child or children that are brought into your home, you must be prepared to care for them at the stage they are in and provide a place of stability in their tumultuous lives.
While the money should never be the determining factor in fostering, you will not have to care for the child you foster solely out of your own means. Each foster child is allotted a stipend, of sorts, that can be used by the foster parents to aide with general care/maintenance and clothing. This amount ranges from $450-$700 per month, depending on the age of the child. Each child is given an annual clothing allowance that ranges from $315-$473, again depending on the age of the child. Foster children are entitled to free lunches at schools, and Medicaid covers all medical needs. Foster parents are able to use WIC for children ages 0-5 and to receive transportation reimbursement for all Medicaid approved travel they incur. Respite assistance and property damage contingencies are available should the need arise. Even though these dollar amounts and assistance are palatable, New Found Families Virginia reminds prospective foster parents to note that while “maintenance payments are expected to cover some costs for caring for children in [their] home,…Families [are encouraged] to be certain they can meet their own financial obligations prior to deciding to care for [foster] children. Fostering is a volunteer effort and the reimbursement does not meet all the costs associated with caring for a child. Fostering should never be considered as a means of income for financing your household.”
Typical placement procedures for foster families in foster care in Virginia
For many, the world of foster care in Virginia is an unfamiliar thing. It could be helpful to see a sample of how a foster placement and following procedures might occur. Connecting Hearts VA lists eight possible steps that may be taken to place a child with a foster family.
“Step 1: Receive phone call from Dept. of Social Services, a Therapeutic Foster Care Agency or Private Agency asking if you are willing to accept a particular child. Not much information is given at this time, and you have to make an almost immediate decision.
Step 2: CPS Officer arrives with the child (sometimes within minutes of the initial phone call)!
Step 3: Court hearing within the first week to determine that the child should remain in foster care. Case is still a CPS case. This is the earliest a child usually would be removed from foster care and given back to his or her birth parents.
Step 4: Court hearing within 30 days of removal to determine that child should remain in foster care, (at this point the case is handled by a foster care worker and is no longer a CPS case) or be returned to the birth parents.
Step 5: Court hearing at the 75-day mark or 45 days from the Step 4 court hearing. This hearing puts a plan in motion and is an order to the birth parents and foster parents on what they need to be doing. Foster parents are ordered to continue to provide a safe, loving home. Birth parents may be ordered to do many things like take a parenting class, get a job, clean the home, and/or go to rehab.
Step 6: Within six months of the Step 5 court hearing, a foster care review hearing should be set up to report the progress of the birth parents.
Step 7: Within five months of the foster care review hearing, a permanency review hearing will be held. This hearing can be held sooner if the plan can be reached sooner.
Step 8: If the permanency plan is for adoption, then foster parents may move forward. There may be additional review hearings until the adoption is complete (every six months).”
Adoption from foster care in Virginia
Though reunification is the true goal of all foster placements, sometimes it is simply not in the child’s best interests to return to his or her original environment. When the situation comes to that point, the child’s parents’ parental rights are legally terminated. The DSS may seek kinship placement for the [waiting] children’s average ages…are frequently school-aged, 5 to 14 years old. Many of these children are part of a sibling group; those who are not are typically at least 8 years of age or older.” Only 30% of these waiting children will be adopted.
One benefit of adopting from foster care in Virginia is that there is very little cost out of pocket. Medical exams, safety classes, and court filings are the main expenses, but these shouldn’t total more than $300 in most cases. These expenses may possibly be reimbursed after you finalize your child’s adoption. According to Connecting Hearts VA, “There are over 5,000 children in foster care in Virginia. Over 700 of these children are waiting for adoptive families. The children in care are from all cultural and socio-economic backgrounds. Virginians choose to adopt from foster care for a variety of reasons. Some families may have been foster parents of the child whose biological parents have had their right terminated. Some may not have a preference regarding age, race, gender, or special needs, and they desire to adopt a child who needs a home. Some families may not be able to afford other forms of adoption. Whatever reason a person may have for adopting from foster care, they must be able to provide a stable, loving environment for the child. Here is a list of agencies with the Commonwealth of Virginia with whom you may choose to work.
You will also need to complete mandatory parenting classes, like PS-MAPP (Permanence and Safety-Model Approach to Partnerships in Parenting) or PRIDE (Parent Resources for Information Development and Education). PRIDE training teaches you basic knowledge about foster care and adoption, agency policies, and the roles of foster and foster-to-adopt parents. These sessions are designed to enhance your understanding of sensitivity to a foster child’s situation, needs, and feelings. It will also give you the tools you need to strengthen your parenting skills.
“Next you will need to file an application to adopt from foster care in Virginia. Expect to include information about your family, your home, and what brought you to the foster care system. At this point, you’ll also let social services know what you might be open to in terms of an adoption situation, such as the child’s age range or any possible special needs.” You will also need to complete a home study, which explores your house, finances, family history, family dynamics/characteristics, core values/strengths, and parenting styles. When you have met the prerequisites, you will begin waiting for placement. The more open you are about your adoption preferences will greatly aid in the rate of placement; however, the timetable is unable to be predetermined and may be very brief or last a few months.
Once your child is placed with you, you’ll be required to satisfy Virginia’s adoption finalization requirements. There will be three scheduled, post-placement visits by your social worker. Upon completion of these visits, the social worker will write a summary of their findings that will be submitted to the court. The final piece in your adoption from foster care puzzle is that the judge will grant permanent, legal custody. From placement to finalization, it should take around six to nine months.
Available waiting children in foster care in Virginia
Currently, there are 5,000+ children in foster care in Virginia. Of these, 1,700 are legally available for adoption and waiting for their families to find them. In Virginia, as in most states, the children who are waiting to be adopted are featured on the Department of Social Services’ website. You can view some of Virginia’s waiting children here.