May: Foster Care Awareness Month

Ryleigh Katstra, Staff Reporter

On May 5, over 250 bluebirds made by a variety of artists took flight on the Downtown Mall. May is National Foster Care Awareness Month and each bluebird represented a different child that is part of the foster care program in our community. In Charlottesville and Albemarle County there are around 250 children in the program, ages birth to 21.
“Across the state of Virginia, they have a foster care unit under social services. Everything related to foster care is done under that umbrella,” specialist of Community Attention Foster Families Marnie Allen, said. Social service groups train foster parents and work with biological parents to give each child the support they need. They can make a referral to a therapeutic foster care agencies if they feel as if they are unable to meet the needs of the child.
But Charlottesville foster care is different than any other city in the state of Virginia. “Community Attention Foster Families is under human services and we have an agreement that we recruit and train foster families locally. Social services work with the biological parents primarily,” Allen said. Social services can call a private agency only if CAFF doesn’t have the right family for the child.
Charlottesville has four private agencies: People Places, Braley and Thompson, UMFS, and DePaul help every child find a family fit for them. If there are siblings that cannot be separated, they will be referred to a private agency so that a family who is willing to foster multiple children is available.
“Community Attention Foster Families has about 130 approved foster homes. Approved means trained and gone through a home study and they meet the requirements to foster a child,” Allen said.
Foster parents can get partial approval, called a kinship home, which is when someone in close contact with the foster child becomes their foster parent. A partially approved foster parent can be a sports coach, a teacher, a spiritual advisor, or a grandparent.
Being an approved foster parent is eye opening. “Even my daughter’s perspective changed. It was actually her idea to foster at first because her brother had just left for college and she didn’t like the attention all on her,” approved foster parent Kathy Doby said. The family started fostering five years ago, and doesn’t plan on stopping anytime in the near future.
Even with the partially approved foster parents and the 130 approved foster homes, there are more children in foster care than there are homes available. While the four private agencies help with finding temporary homes for some of these children, many still remain without a foster family.
“The hardest part is kids who age out of foster care and don’t have a place to go. It’s just the part that breaks my heart. It’s just thinking ‘who are they going to have Christmas dinner with’ and knowing that they don’t have a family for that,” Doby said. There are organizations who will help young adults that have aged out of care find jobs, but it doesn’t change the fact that many of them don’t have a place to go when they need it.
“You think, oh I want to expose this kid to going here and going there, but it’s the simplest things. For a kid who didn’t know when dinner was and had no structure it’s really just the fact of being together to do something that we take for granted was the neatest thing,” Doby said.
Community Attention Foster Families is hoping that soon they will be able to have a foster home for every child. Charlottesville is experiencing a rise in the number of children in the foster care program and they are looking for more homes. The Bluebird project was only the start of raising awareness and hoping that they will have more people step up to be foster parents.
“We keep doing it because you think about the child that you are impacting but you end up learning a lot yourself about being a better person because of the child you get to know,” Doby said.