November has been designated as National Adoption Month to bring attention to the need for permanent families for children in foster care, and local social workers say that need absolutely exists here in Surry County.
For starters, the county is short on foster homes for children needing what is hopefully temporary placement.
“We’re still working with parents to try to get them united,” said Michael Lineback, program manager for Surry County Department of Social Services (DSS), which can be a lengthy process during which children need a safe and caring environment.
While the number of children in the county system fluctuates, Lineback said roughly 90 children are currently under the department’s care, with only 23 licensed foster homes to serve them.
Children who can not be placed with a local foster family are placed in a facility or sent outside the county, sometimes as far as Charlotte, the coast or even South Carolina.
Both of those options are costly for taxpayers and create logistical challenges endured by the children and the two social workers currently managing their cases.
On top of that, “disruptions in care create traumatic problems,” Lineback said, for children already coping with the separation from their families and whatever experiences led to that separation.
Lineback, who has worked for the department for 16 years, said number of cases in the county has generally increased and is likely due to issues such as substance abuse, unemployment and domestic violence.
“That’s been on the rise steadily. It’s not just a DSS concern, that’s a concern community wide,” he said.
Negative conceptions of DSS may also complicate involvement.
“People don’t necessarily trust us,” said Lineback. “They think we just go out and pick kids up and take them away from their parents.”
In reality, for a child to be removed from their home, “something really bad has to happen,” he said. “I think a lot of people don’t understand what we do or why it takes so long for things to happen.”
Other families who may be willing to open their homes might not be aware there’s a serious need for them to do so.
“We need people to step up,” he said. “Foster families take on an awesome responsibility. Ultimately, they’re wanting to provide a good life for a child who otherwise might not have an opportunity to exceed or excel.”
When adoption is the answer
Eight children in Surry County are currently in need of a permanent adoptive family, and an additional two have adoption as their secondary plan.
“When we get to the adoption end it’s disheartening to see people waiting and nothing come available,” said Brandy Wilkin, assistant adoption supervisor.
She explained that the department’s biggest challenge involves placing teenage children.
“Trying to find that forever home for them has been difficult and challenging as of late,” she said. “We’ve just been running into roadblocks.”
According to U.S. Children’s Bureau, children ages 15 to 18 are less likely to be adopted and are at risk of aging out of the system.
Wendy Harmon, the social worker who handles adoptions, said she’s seen several successful adoptions involving older youths in her 16 years with the department.
“There have been so many special stories,” she said. “These children are not bad children; these children are our neighbors, our classmates. They are our future.”
Harmon thought of a family now living in the Eastern part of the state from whom she still receives encouraging updates, such as prom pictures or word that the child, who had never before been able to participate in sports, not only played football but took home a championship ring.
The child’s success is shared by the family.
“That adoptive father may not be his biological father, but he’s been able to experience so many ‘firsts’ with him,” Harmon said, which sheds light on a possible misconception regarding the adoption of older children.
“Their childhood is not over,” she said. “In many ways, it’s just beginning.”
Though the need for more foster and adoptive families exists, “I am so very proud of our community,” Harmon said.
“Recently our department assisted the Surry County Foster Parent Association with a Bingo Fundraiser. And I appreciate the opportunity to be able to send a ‘shout out’ to the area businesses of Surry County and surrounding communities. They did not hesitate to offer their assistance, their support, and donations for this wonderful organization that oftentimes, many have never heard about.”
Those interested in fostering or adopting a child first attend a training session called Model Approach to Partnerships in Parenting, or MAPP.
The ten week sessions are held twice a year and involve a total of 30 hours of training.
“The class really is a process to figure out if you really want to do foster care, to adopt or to do both,” Harmon said.
Family visits, reference and background checks are conducted after the training is completed.
“It’s about finding a good match,” said Wilkin. “That’s part of our job.”
Families interested in fostering or adopting a child should contact Wendy Harmon at 336-401-8800.
Reach Terri Flagg 415-4734.