County grows fos­ter care par­ent out­reach

Key ar­eas of need in­clude homes for teenagers and sib­ling groups

The Washington Times Daily - - METRO - BY ALI­CIA PETSKA

ROANOKE, VA. | Tum­bling pen­guins. Sil­very snowflakes. Col­or­ful bursts of sea­son’s greet­ings.

One by one, stacks of freshly gift-wrapped presents quickly mul­ti­plied in a crowded Depart­ment of So­cial Ser­vices con­fer­ence room as vol­un­teers worked to dec­o­rate presents bound for one of the dozens of chil­dren in fos­ter care in Roanoke County.

“It re­ally gives you a solid im­age of just how many kids there are,” vol­un­teer Becky McDonell said as she stood amid the toys and clothes do­nated through the an­nual Fos­ter Care Christ­mas pro­gram.

In a typ­i­cal month, 80 to 90 chil­dren are in Roanoke County’s fos­ter care pro­gram.

Roanoke County So­cial Ser­vices, which is al­ways on the look­out for new fos­ter par­ents, is aiming to raise aware­ness of the pro­gram and is in the early stages of de­vel­op­ing a new, more fo­cused out­reach cam­paign.

“We’re al­ways in need of more homes,” said So­cial Ser­vices Di­rec­tor Joyce Earl, adding that the depart­ment will be push­ing to find new ways to get the word out through so­cial me­dia, di­rect out­reach and other means in the com­ing year.

To that end, it just hired a new out­reach and re­cruit­ment co­or­di­na­tor who is tasked with de­vel­op­ing and ex­e­cut­ing the new strategy.

Key ar­eas of need in­clude homes will­ing to take in teenagers and sib­ling groups. The prospect of fos­ter­ing older chil­dren or mul­ti­ple chil­dren can sound in­tim­i­dat­ing ini­tially, of­fi­cials said, but the depart­ment is there to pro­vide sup­port and train­ing, in­clud­ing a nine-week course re­quired for all new fos­ter par­ents.

“We’ve had some very, very com­pelling kids who’ve come to speak to our fos­ter par­ent re­cruit­ment classes, and their sto­ries are amaz­ing and dis­arm­ing,” said Ben Jones, fam­ily ser­vices su­per­vi­sor, adding that the chance to hear first­hand from some­one who has gone through fos­ter care of­ten helps to dis­pel mis­con­cep­tions.

The process of be­com­ing a fos­ter par­ent is mul­ti­part. Ap­pli­cants must pass back­ground checks and a home as­sess­ment, as well as com­plete the nine-week class that trains them in the pro­gram’s re­quire­ments and the emo­tional sup­ports needed by chil­dren go­ing through a dis­rup­tion in their fam­ily life.

Typ­i­cally, the depart­ment ex­pects about half the peo­ple who at­tend an in­tro­duc­tory ses­sion will go on to com­plete the process and be­come fos­ter par­ents.

The move to a more ro­bust out­reach cam­paign is a shift for a pro­gram that of­ten draws lit­tle at­ten­tion – some­times putting it at a dis­ad­van­tage with the bevy of out­side providers who of­fer spe­cial­ized fos­ter care ser­vices, of­fi­cials said.

The out­side agen­cies, all work­ing to re­cruit par­ents from the same pool of com­mu­ni­ties, are im­por­tant part­ners for So­cial Ser­vices and pro­vide ther­a­peu­tic fos­ter care place­ment for high­needs chil­dren.

But a short­age of what is some­times re­ferred to as tra­di­tional fos­ter care homes can re­sult in many lo­cal­i­ties, in­clud­ing Roanoke County, need­ing to call upon those agen­cies for chil­dren who don’t ac­tu­ally need the more in­ten­sive re­sources.

“We have to have some­where safe and ap­pro­pri­ate for them to live,” Mr. Jones ex­plained. “If there’s nowhere else, we can’t ex­actly set them up in a tent in the back­yard.”

Out­side ser­vices mean ad­di­tional fees and ex­penses a county could avoid if it suc­ceeds in beef­ing up its own ros­ter of fos­ter par­ents.

But that re­quires step­ping up re­cruit­ment ef­forts. In Roanoke County, the new out­reach co­or­di­na­tor job has the po­ten­tial to pay for it­self in sav­ings if it suc­ceeds in al­low­ing more cases to be kept in tra­di­tional fos­ter care, of­fi­cials said.

The re­newed out­reach fo­cus al­ready has spurred the lo­cal depart­ment to start pep­per­ing so­cial me­dia with men­tions of the fos­ter care pro­gram, and it’s brain­storm­ing ideas to boost in­ter­est in next year’s ori­en­ta­tion ses­sions.

With Christ­mas ap­proach­ing, the depart­ment sur­ren­dered part of its of­fices last week to a tu­mult of wrap­ping pa­per and gift bags for one of its fa­vorite an­nual programs, Fos­ter Care Christ­mas, which col­lects do­na­tions for fos­ter chil­dren’s wish lists.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Vol­un­teers Kathryn Baker (right) and Laura Davis, with the Ju­nior League, fold baby clothes to wrap it into a Christ­mas present while at the Roanoke County Depart­ment of So­cial Ser­vices, in Roanoke, Vir­ginia.

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