Huge need for foster families in the Shenandoah Valley
The need for foster parents in Virginia is huge. For a lot of the kids in foster care, the future is uncertain.
We’re looking into how you can help these kids find a loving home and better our community in the process.
Seventeen-year-old Erika Austin was one of those children. "I'm like a homesick girl. I love being home," Austin shared.
After spending about two years with her foster family, she was recently adopted and now calls Franklin County home. “My parents: Every kid who has been there has wanted to stay with them," Austin added.
Though she lives in Franklin County now, Austin is originally from Waynesboro. Before her experience in foster care, she told WHSV life wasn’t the best.
"If you're being abused, you need to tell,” Austin said. “I didn't tell until...It wasn't too late, but stuff happened that shouldn't have happened."
Her story isn’t unique.
“We just need more families,” explained Alice Tribley.
Tribley is a former foster parent and now works with Intercept Youth Services to help kids in need find foster homes in the Shenandoah Valley. Intercept is an agency serving different parts of Virginia in this way.
"There is an increase in children who are being abused and neglected,” Tribley added. She said her phone rings constantly with referrals for kids in need in our area.
“We are getting 30 to 40 calls every week with referrals,” she told WHSV.
We reached to the Virginia Department of Social Services to ask about the need. They told WHSV that as of September 1, 2016, in Staunton, there are 38 kids in foster care; in Waynesboro, there are 47; in Augusta County, there are 70; in Harrisonburg there are 85; and in Rockingham County, there are 87 children in foster care.
Those constantly changing numbers are why Intercept and other agencies work so hard to find parents like Todd Gordon.
"When they come to you, they come to you with a black trash bag, literally, with no clothes. The clothes that they do have are too small," Gordon explained. Gordon breaks the mold when it comes to foster parenting; he's a single dad.
"The first time you see one of them smile: That's it. And then the first time they call you dad. That's almost overwhelming,” Gordon shared about his experience as a foster parent.
He says he encourages other potential parents to explore the option.
"We have a lot to offer even when we think we don't have a lot to offer," he concluded.
That loving, caring attitude is exactly what helped Erika Austin get a new start on life. In fact, she graduated high school two years early.
"Some kids have always felt abuse, abuse, abuse. That's what they feel is love. When they get actual love, it just makes them a better person," Austin concluded.
You can find images of everyone involved in this story below, along with a detailed breakdown of foster care stats in the 'Related Documents' section of this article.