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Foster families needed in Shenandoah Valley

Published: May. 25, 2022 at 11:25 PM EDT
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - This National Foster Care Month, organizations are raising awareness of the lack of foster families in the Shenandoah Valley.

“There’s a severe shortage of foster homes here and all across the state that was not improved by the pandemic. It’s pretty much at a crisis level,” Samantha Brooks, a Program Manager with Impact Living Services, said.

Impact offers foster care, behavioral health, and independent living resources to children around Virginia, but due to limited services in the Valley, children are oftentimes transported to other parts of the state.

“We tend to send our youngsters, teenagers, pre-teens to bigger cities like Roanoke, Richmond,” Brooks said. “They are forced to leave their community simply for the sake of not having a home to send them to.”

With a large pool of teenagers, Brooks said not everyone will find their forever home and will age out of foster care, but the Impact Independent Living program helps 17 to 21-year-old foster youth with housing and transitioning into adulthood by leasing apartments in Harrisonburg. She said the Independent Living program is growing, and Impact is working on purchasing property, like townhomes in the area.

“Specifically here in Harrisonburg, we have eight youth apartments and they stay pretty full. We have 10 kids right now,” Brooks said. “Instead of paying rent, we can take that money and reinvest it back into the program by owning the property.

Dennis Villeda was in foster care since he was eight years old and participated in the Independent Living program from ages 19 to 21.

“An organization like Impact helped me in that process of adulthood and figuring out how to manage my own life, take control of my own development. It helped me not feel so alone in that process,” Villeda said.

After graduating from Blue Ridge Community College, Villeda was accepted to James Madison University where he recently received his degree in social work. Now, Villeda is having a full-circle moment 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, figuring it out when I was aging out of foster care in the initial beginning, there was so much that I didn’t know to expect into this new journey in adulthood that I was prepared for,” Villeda said. “I didn’t have parental guidance to help me navigate financial burdens that come up and continue my education.”

They said the number one thing you can do to help is to become a foster parent yourself.

“If you cannot do fostering, we are always on the lookout for respite homes, which means you can take a foster child or children for a very short amount of time,” Brooks said.

The application process to become a foster parent can take several months, Brooks said and includes home studies 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 those children and youth, more than 700 children are ready for adoption right now.

Click here for more information on foster care in Virginia, or call 1 (833)-9FOSTER to speak with Impact Living Services about foster care.

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