Foster care inquiries down following pandemic

Published 8:30 am Thursday, June 30, 2022

Currently, there are nearly 5,000 young people in foster care in Virginia and more children are in need of a loving home and adults to care for them.

Recent data compiled by the United Methodist Family Services found that foster care inquiries are down 80% in 2022 compared to 2019.

According to the latest Virginia Department of Social Services report from April, 88 children in the area are currently in foster care.

According to UMFS, serving Prince Edward with an office in Farmville, as well as surrounding counties is in need of families open to fostering youth of all ages, but specifically ages 10-18. There are more than 5,275 children in foster care in the state and more than half of them live in non-relative foster homes, with many in need of foster homes due to currently having to be placed in group homes or institutions.

According to the VDSS, about 60% of youth in foster care are ages 10 and up. In Virginia, 18% of children exit the foster care system each year because they have turned 18 and aged out.

Nationally, 20% of teens who age out of foster care will experience homelessness.

In addition to the low rate of inquiries to become a foster parent, UMFS shows that the percentage of individuals completing the necessary training to be a foster parent has gone down by 54% across the state.

“Some of that can be attributed to the pandemic, however, even before the pandemic, finding foster families is challenging,” said Holly Coates, UFMS Regional Director. “Many people often believe they ‘can’t’ foster because they don’t have the skills or resources. Some believe you have to make a certain amount of money, be married, be a stay-at-home parent, or be married to foster, and none of those are true. Our goal is to change the belief of “no I can’t,” to “yes, I can.” Many people we talk to have thought of fostering or have always wanted to, but don’t know how to go about getting started.”

According to UMFS Chief Program Officer Adalay Wilson, becoming a foster parent through UMFS takes 3-6 months, and most of the training is online.

“If you’ve ever considered fostering, we’re asking you to take the first step and learn more,” said Wilson. “Older youth in Virginia deserve the chance at a family. They deserve to stay in the communities they know, in a home with people who are committed to their healing through thick and thin. We need individuals from all walks of life to be in that safe and stable home.”

There is no gender, cultural, ethnicity, religious, marital status, educational, or home ownership requirements for becoming a foster parent.

“Foster parents and families with UMFS come from all walks of life,” Wilson said. “They’re teachers, nurses, social workers, chefs and more. They are single people, married people, young people, and older people. They are members of the LGBTQ community. They rent apartments. They own homes. Ultimately, they are people who have realized they have room in their homes, room in their schedules and room in their hearts for a child in great need.”

Coates said the number of children coming into foster care grows daily.

“We receive approximately 15-20 referrals for placement each week in this area, and we are forced to turn down the majority due to not having a placement available, particularly for older kids,” Coates said. “We place as many as we can but continue to utilize homes as soon as they are approved because the need is so great.

“The pandemic has exacerbated the challenge two-fold, as there are less families open to and able to foster due to their own stresses during this time, and more children are coming into care due to financial, socioeconomic or other stresses. The result is a greater need with less resources to meet that need, causing more children to be placed further away from their families, more siblings to be separated, and more children to be placed in group homes due to no foster homes available.”

For more information about becoming a foster parent or to register for a virtual information session, interested individuals can visit UMFS.org/foster.