By Kim Walter
The "Virginia Adopts: Campaign for 1,000" kicked off earlier this week with events being held across the commonwealth to highlight the effort and promote adoption. On Monday, area residents are invited to attend one in Winchester.
From 6 to 8 p.m. at the Our Health Center at 329 North Cameron St., parents and families interested in adoption can receive information about the process and need in the area.
In May, Governor Bob McDonnell announced the initiative with the goal of matching at least 1,000 children currently in foster care in the state with adoptive families.
McDonnell released a proclamation recognizing May as Foster Care Month in Virginia. In it, he said that there are currently more than 4,300 children and youth in foster care in the state, and 1,485 of those have the goal of adoption.
"Every child and youth in foster care deserves the security and opportunities for growth that a family can provide," the proclamation reads. "I urge all citizens to offer their talents and energies on behalf of children and youth in foster care during the month and throughout the year."
Last week, the governor's office sent out another release about the informational events taking place throughout the state, and encouraged anyone interested to attend.
"Children in foster care are there through no fault of their own, and just as much as any child, they deserve a loving, secure, and stable family and home," the release states.
Secretary of the Commonwelath Janet Kelly, along with her husband Ryan, are helping to lead the "Virginia Adopts" initiative.
"When children age out of the foster care system without finding a permanent family, they face more significant challenges without a support system of any kind," she said in a release. "With so many loving families in Virginia, I am confident we can find great matches for these 1,000 children."
Co-chair of the initiative's steering committee, Kay Coles James also is the former Virginia Secretary of Health and Human Resources and a former foster mom.
"When considering adoption, many people think that only babies or children in other countries are available. Any adoption is a selfless act of love, but many families don't know that there are children right here in Virginia who need a forever family," she stated in a release. "As with biological children, parenting these children isn't always easy. However, as many foster and adoptive parents will tell you, the children often teach us more than we teach them."
Beth Reavis, director of the Warren County Department of Social Services, said she and her staff were happy to hear about the statewide campaign.
"If this initiative places one kid, 10 kids ... it's successful," she said Friday morning. "Every single child is so important to us, and honestly, initiatives like this don't cost the state or tax payers much money, if any, so it's a real blessing that the governor put this into action."
Reavis explained that any child who is displaced goes through a process with the court system, and the first goal is always to get them back into their home. However, sometimes circumstances don't allow for that.
From there, the department attempts to contact any and all family members of the child or youth.
"It's all about trying to find something permanent for the kids as quickly as possible," she said.
However, if all those options are exhausted, and parental rights are terminated, youth are placed in foster care. Reavis said her staff looks for families intending to adopt.
The county currently has four teenagers -- two girls and two boys -- and an 8-year-old boy who are eligible for adoption. Reavis recognized that teenagers can be tough to handle, no matter their background.
"A lot of people think these kids are rough, but that's definitely not always the case," she said. "The reality of it is that typically, they've been through some complex situations, and come out with a complex set of needs. That's why we look for that person or family who will make them feel safe, put down their defenses, and just let themselves be loved."
Reavis also noted that becoming a foster or adoptive parent isn't a "quick fix." The process includes a number of safety and security measures, as well as rigorous training. Even after family is approved, the county department maintains a "lifetime relationship," to help as issues arise.
"We want to make sure families realize their resources and support that's out there for them once they take in a child," she said. "We don't just hand you a child and back out."
Reavis said that any family, couple or individual with the "slightest inkling or thought of interest" in the issue should attend Monday's event. She said the opportunity isn't just open to "wealthy" families, or those without children.
"This is an opportunity to give to another human being in a way like no other," she said. "There are so many kids available right in our area, and no two are exactly the same. I think once you realize what a difference adoption makes, it's hard to walk away without wanting to do something about it."
For more information or to register for the event, go to www.virginiaadopts.virginia.gov/events.cfm.
Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or firstname.lastname@example.org