Local gathering addresses state effort to find foster kids homes

Posted: July 30, 2013

The Winchester Star

WINCHESTER — There are 4,000 children in foster care in Virginia. On July 22, Gov. Bob McDonnell launched a campaign to find permanent homes for 1,000 of them.

“Virginia Adopts: Campaign for 1,000,” will be using social media and a variety of tools, groups and organizations to convince state residents to step up to provide those homes.

At the Our Health campus Monday evening, foster parents, adoptive parents and career and volunteer workers who deal with adopted and foster children met to share concern for the need and hear success stories about adoption, especially of older children.

These are the children who most need permanent families, said Vickie Johnson Scott, regional director of the Virginia Department or Social Services.

Keynote speaker Elizabeth Kellas, a Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court judge who serves Winchester and Frederick County in the 26th District and the mother of two adopted boys, shared the words of a 19-year-old who described the issues foster children face. These include the possibility of having to move to a new foster home, changing schools and therapists and needing to learn the workings of a new group home.

Adopted children don’t have those worries, Kellas said the teen told her. In a permanent home, “you don’t have to worry about today, so you can dream about your future,” the young man said.

Everyone at the Our Health meeting needed “the passion to make this happen,” Kellas said.

It can be done.

Jimmy Adkins, of Stephens City, started out fostering teenage boys as a single “father” a dozen years ago and later adopted three of those youngsters. At one time, he said, he had five foster boys in his home.

Adopting teens is “more emotional,” he said, because they often feel they are betraying their birth families if they decide they want to be adopted.

But Megan DeHaven said she would tell any teenager to accept an adoptive family.

DeHaven, who is now a member of the Cherry family of Stephens City, said even though teenagers are “older, we all need a family, someone to cry with and someone to laugh with.”

The teenager said it was a hard decision in the beginning, because “you don’t want to hurt your birth family,” and seeing that family broken apart was “pretty hard.”

“It’s OK to get adopted,” she said. “Knowing you are going to have a permanent home is the best thing.”

Paul McWhinney, director of the Virginia Department of Social Services, said older children “linger in foster care much too long.”

Government “isn’t a good mom or dad,” he said. Many teens “age out” of foster care and end up with no family to attend their graduations or walk them down the aisle at their weddings.

Alex Kamberis, assistant director of family services for the Virginia Social Services Department, said there are 230 children in the Northern Region — which includes Winchester and Frederick and Clarke counties — who are awaiting adoption.

They include Ser, 11, a star student who makes good grades and loves cars; Nadia, 13, artistic and social, who loves music and dancing; and Jerry, 15, an active Boy Scout who likes photography and all kinds of sports. Their pictures were posted at the back of the room for participants to see after the meeting.

“We can pave the way for adoption of these children.” said Kellas. If the community supports them, “their lives will be happy,” she said, and they will be able to “dream big.”

For more information go to www.VirginiaAdopts.Virginia.gov or www.dss.virginia.gov/adoption/ or go to Virginia Adopts on Facebook or Twitter.

— Contact Val Van Meter at vvanmeter@winchesterstar.com