Most volunteers in Stafford County go home at the end of the day. Foster parents volunteer around the clock to give a child a sense of permanency, well-being and safety – the mantra of the Stafford Department of Social Services. May is National Foster Care Month, and Stafford County recognizes the many women and men who have given their hearts over the years to children in need as well as the workers in Social Services who advocate for the children.
“Foster families are our work engine. We could not do what we do without them,” said Karen Stidsen, a 30-year Department of Social Services veteran. “Everybody needs a family, and every child needs permanency. We start thinking about that as soon as a child comes into foster care.”
The number of children in foster care in Stafford County is half of what it was ten years ago. Stidsen credits this to the hard work performed by Social Services caseworkers. They do preventive work with families in crisis and work toward a permanent home with relatives or adoptive families.
Stidsen shared several stories of children who have gone on to triumph over difficult conditions with the care of a loving foster family. Stidsen remembers when staff was called to a home where they saw what they thought was a baby doll, which turned out to be an infant who weighed less than five pounds at three months of age. An experienced foster mother took her in, and that baby is thriving today because of her actions. There was also another child who had been moved from foster home to foster home because of her behavior. Fortunately, she was adopted three months shy of her 18th birthday and has a successful career today.
“I would like to assure everyone who is thinking of fostering that we fully support our foster parents, 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year, no matter the time of day,” said Michael Muse, Director of the Department of Social Services. “We will walk you through every step of the process and help you with everyday needs of the child because we are in this together. We need you more than you need us and we understand your value.”
Stafford recognizes its foster families and children at a special banquet every year during National Foster Care Month. They also tie blue ribbons on the trees in front of the George L. Gordon, Jr., Government Center. This year, there will be one ribbon for each of the 40 foster children residing with 26 homes. Stafford has 50 approved homes that are available at any given time.
Foster parent training is held four times a year. There are 21 hours of classroom work and 18 hours of homework. Social Services conducts an extensive home study, checks criminal records, does Child Protective Services checks, checks driver’s licenses and asks for recommendations. Those who are interested may contact Stafford Social Services at (540) 658-4624 or by visiting www.staffordcountyva.gov/socialservices.