Officials say the COVID pandemic has had a dire impact on the foster care systems in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. More children are entering foster care at a time when there are fewer foster parents available to care for them.
The last two years have also seen fewer foster parents taking in children for fear of jeopardizing the health of their own biological families. As a result, some children have temporarily spent nights in the offices of state child welfare agencies in Tennessee and Virginia.
Noelle Grimes, Frontier Health’s division director for children’s continuum services, said in a statement released last week there “is a great need for families willing to foster and provide safe, nurturing and supportive homes to children who have to enter foster care.”
Frontier Health is asking for families to participate in one of its two therapeutic foster care programs.
TRACES is a child-placing agency licensed by the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services. VALUES is designated the same by the Virginia Department of Social Services.
Frontier Health officials say both programs will help train parents who are willing to open their homes to foster children. Tennessee and Virginia also provides a monthly financial stipend to foster families to help them care for the children they take in.
“We’re there for foster parents 24/7,” said Alexandra Enriquez, a foster parent recruiter and trainer for VALUES. “We will help you every step of the way.”
Enriquez said it takes two years of training to become a foster parent. She said the programs also include outside resources to help meet the special needs of children in therapeutic care.
She notes the average length of stay for a child in a foster home in Virginia is 21 months.
“Being a foster parent means you are not only opening your home to children, but to state case workers, counselors and others who are there to help those children,” Enriquez said. “Every child in foster care is just one loving adult away from succeeding.”
As a result of the pandemic, officials say more children with trauma issues have entered foster care in recent months. Those issues include physical, sexual or psychological abuse, as well as medical and emotional neglect.
“In the past two years, we’ve had kids who haven’t been going to school or seeing a doctor regularly,” Enriquez said. “The support system and the resources to identify trauma just wasn’t there to detect these problems early on.”
Tennessee residents who are interested in becoming a foster parent should contact TRACES at www.frontierhealth.org/foster/traces/. Virginia residents can reach VALUES at www.frontierhealth.org/foster/values/.
“If you have the heart and desire to become a foster parent, we want to hear from you,” Enriquez said.