In the Martinsville-Henry County area, Jason Masching, Hope Tree foster parent recruiter, is looking for good homes.

“We are in need of families who are willing to take kids anywhere between the ages of infant up to 17,” Masching said. “The biggest need is around age 10 and teens, but really it’s all over the gamut.”

Masching said it’s difficult to pinpoint the most prevalent reasons that children, specifically in the Martinsville area, might enter foster care, but noted that there are many statewide issues that children and their families face.

“Most kids are removed because their family has lost their natural supports like grandparents, friends and family that are around that person,” Masching said. “The family may have gotten in trouble with the law. They may have some drug issues where they’re needing to go and get clean. They could just be falling on some hard times, having difficulty making sure their kids get to school, getting enough adequate food, things like that. And there just aren’t other people around that family who are able to fill in those gaps.”

In an effort to pair kids with appropriate homes, the Salem-based Hope Tree partners with area churches and hosts one-hour sessions once a month at each location. The sessions provide information about how to become a foster parent. Locally, McCabe Memorial Baptist Church hosts a session every second Thursday at 6 p.m.

“We’re looking for anyone who’s interested in learning more about the foster care system and possibly becoming a foster parent,” Masching said. “Primarily it’s for folks who have some sort of desire or are wanting to get more information. They come and learn a little more about it.”

The issue of foster care recently took the national center stage when images surfaced online of a newborn baby in Georgia swaddled in nothing more than a plastic bag. Found on June 6 by Alan Ragatz and his three daughters, the one-hour-old baby India still had her umbilical cord attached as she cried upon a bed of leaves nestled 35 miles southwest of Atlanta.

The nation outpoured with love for the innocent infant who went into foster care, with 1,000 people offering their homes.

It’s an undeniably heartwarming story, but one question lingers: What happens to the other 999 families who didn’t welcome the high-profile child through their doors?

There are approximately 440,000 children in foster care across the United States, according to the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis Report published in August 2018. Approximately 125,000 of those children are awaiting adoption.

While 25% of children in foster care are adopted by their foster parents, an average of 20,000 kids age out of the system each year, the Administration for Children and Families reported.

In Virginia, there are over 5,300 children in foster care and more than 1,600 are awaiting adoption, according to the Virginia Department of Social Services.

While there are certainly plenty of babies and younger children looking for a home, there are just as many older children hoping to find a loving environment before they age out of the system. A whopping 45% of Virginia foster children are over 13 years of age.

Often, the path into foster care begins when parents or caregivers are unable to adequately provide for the child or if they mistreat the kids, and so child protective services steps in. Going from what’s considered normal for the child to having an entirely different family and a new set of rules isn’t always easy, but Hope Tree aims to make the transition as seamless as possible.

“We’re trying to give each of these kids some kind of stability in their time of uncertainty,” Masching said.

Hope Tree helps families and caregivers build upon their natural supports and also provides a safe, loving, caring home for a child while those relationships form and grow.

There’s a regional need for both short- and long-term placements, anywhere from a few days to as long as 18 months.

“The first goal of the foster care system is to try to reunify that child with their biological family,” Masching said. “It helps for the kids to maintain a permanent relationship with their biological family, if that is at all possible and if at all appropriate.”

The findings of the state’s social services show that approximately 39% of Virginia children in foster care return to their birth family.

Otherwise, children remain in foster care until they are adopted or age out of the system.

Masching said that approximately half of the people who come to the informative sessions end up fostering a child. Of course, the families that do take in a child don’t have the extra room or time to foster more children.

”So we’re always looking for more foster parents, not only because there’s so many in care, but sometimes because those kids that are have found their forever home and we’re having to replace them,” he said.

Coming to the information session is the first step in a process that typically takes a few months for prospective foster parents to complete.

“Some folks, I think, think that they can come, fill out some paperwork, do a background check, and within a couple of days have a kid in their home. And that’s really not a possibility,” Masching said. “If it was my kids, I’d want to make sure they’d done all the training, all the background checks, as much as possible. So we owe it to the kid and to the biological family to do our best.”

Hope Tree also strives to place kids as few times as possible during their foster care stay, creating more stability in the child’s life.

“That takes a lot of time and effort, to get to know the families, so that we can make sure that right family is the right home for that right kid,” Masching said.

Following the one-hour session, interested foster parents go through training, background checks and home visits.

“The number-one goal is getting to know that family, making sure that they are prepared to support that child,” Masching said.

Amie Knowles can be reached at amierknowles@gmail.com

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