HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) – This National Foster Family Month, organizations are raising awareness of the lack of foster families in the Shenandoah Valley.
“There is a severe shortage of foster homes here and across the state that has not been improved by the pandemic. It’s pretty much at a crisis level,” said Samantha Brooks, program manager at Impact Living Services.
Impact provides foster care, behavioral health, and independent living resources to children in Virginia, but due to limited services in the Valley, children are often transported to other parts of the state.
“We tend to send our young people, teens, tweens to bigger cities like Roanoke, Richmond,” Brooks said. “They are forced to leave their community simply because they have no home to send them to.”
With a large number of teenagers, Brooks said not everyone will find their forever home and age in foster care, but the Impact Independent Living program helps young people aged 17 to 21 find housing and to transition into adulthood by renting apartments in Harrisonbourg. She said the independent living program is growing and Impact is working to purchase properties, like townhouses in the area.
“Specifically here in Harrisonburg, we have eight youth apartments and they remain quite full. We have 10 kids right now,” Brooks said. “Instead of paying rent, we can take that money and put it back into the program by owning the property.
Dennis Villeda had been in foster care since he was eight years old and participated in the independent living program from age 19 to 21.
“An organization like Impact helped me through this process of coming of age and understanding how to manage my own life, take control of my own development. It helped me not to feel so alone in this process”, Villeda said.
After graduating from Blue Ridge Community College, Villeda was accepted to James Madison University where he recently graduated in social work. Now Villeda is coming full circle as he begins working as a case manager for Impact, using his own experience in the foster care system to help other children in the future.
“Being on the other end of it, understanding when I was growing old out of foster care at first, there was so much I didn’t know to expect on this new journey of adulthood that I I was prepared,” said Villeda. “I had no parental guidance to help me deal with the financial burdens that arise and to continue my education.”
They said the first thing you can do to help is become a foster parent yourself.
“If you can’t do foster care, we are always looking for respite homes, which means you can take a child or children into foster care for a very short period of time,” said Brooks.
The application process to become an adoptive parent can take several months, Brooks said, and includes home study and in-person and virtual training.
According to the Virginia Department of Social Services, there are nearly 5,400 children in Virginia’s foster care system. Of these children and youth, more than 700 are ready for adoption today.
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