‘At this moment, today, there are no available homes that are accepting kids’
Judge issues urgent plea for Rapp residents to become foster parents
The availability of foster care homes in Rappahannock has reached crisis proportions, and as county children are being sent to more urban areas to live it puts the county’s federal reimbursement funding in jeopardy.
“And the reason is because we have very few, and at times no approved available foster homes within Rappahannock County,” reveals Rappahannock Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court Judge Melissa Cupp.
“At this moment, today, there are no available homes that are accepting kids. So we have about 23 kids in foster care right now,” says the judge, “four kids who are in the county and everybody else is placed outside the county.
“So what that means is every time a child comes into foster care in Rappahannock they are being taken away from their family and almost in every case they have to start school someplace different, usually within a day or two, making all new friends at the location. It’s always a more urban environment because there’s no place that’s the same as Rappahannock, and sometimes it’s way more urban, like Richmond or Fredericksburg or Winchester.
“About half of our kids are teenagers, so it is extremely hard for them because their peer groups are so important to them,” she adds.
Describing the lack of foster care as “overwhelming,” Judge Cupp and other concerned parties, including the Rappahannock County Department of Social Services (DSS) and various citizens, recently formed the Rappahannock County Foster Care Task Force, which met for the first time in October and continues to meet monthly.
“We’re trying to figure out why we don’t have foster parents, and then how do we overcome some of those barriers,” Cupp explains in an interview with the Rappahannock News. “We found out a couple things, one it’s very difficult to get training in Rappahannock.”
The state of Virginia conducts foster parent training, she points out, but they will only come and train if a minimum of six people are enrolled in the class.
“Well, six people in a class in Rappahannock is pretty difficult, so it’s been many years since we’ve had training available locally,” Cupp notes. “So people have been asked to go to Winchester, several years ago to Prince William County, so it’s just become unmanageable.”
As a result, the task force is working with Sperryville-based RappU to hold a class in March, “and as long as we have six people that can go forward,” she says. The class would be held on Saturdays for three sessions.
“And then we’re going to have a meet-and-greet where people can come and talk to people who are currently fostering and ask questions,” Cupp says, which will be held during the afternoon and evening hours of Monday, Feb. 4th, 4 to 7 p.m. at the Washington Town Hall.
In attendance to share his experience as a foster youth in Rappahannock County will be Adam Starks, author of the 2014 autobiography, “Broken Child Mended Man.”
Another reason the task force believes foster parenting is scarce in Rappahannock is demographics, from the county’s aging population to the fact that so many residents commute long distances for work and are seldom home.
Hopefully, the judge adds, it’s because there isn’t an awareness of the critical problem the county faces with foster care.
So who in Rappahannock County can become a foster parent?
“There are no restrictions,” advises Cupp. “You can be a single parent; you can be two parents who are cohabiting and not married (but if you are cohabiting and not married only one parent becomes the foster parent, and the other parent because an approved adult in the home); you can be homosexual, heterosexual; you can be young, elderly.”
There are several types of foster parenting, all requiring the training at RappU.
“There is a need for ‘emergency’ foster care parents, somebody who is willing to just take a child overnight, possibly two nights,” says the judge. “I am imagining we would have a community of people here who are retired, who may not want to take a child in long term, who would be willing to let a child spend one or two nights while we find a placement for them.”
Currently, she says, if a child comes into foster care say at 11 p.m., they have to spend the night at the DSS offices in Washington because there’s no home or bed available in the county.
“We need ‘respite’ foster care, which is to give foster parents a break. So if somebody can take a kid for the weekend and do some fun things with them and hang out with them and then send them home to their foster families,” she explains.
“And then there is ‘long term’ foster care, where the child would be with you until they are either returned home or they became eligible for adoption.”
The training is the same for all three categories of foster parenting.
Cupp says the task force is also exploring a “pairing” style of foster care, where different households share the responsibilities of fostering a child..
Judge Cupp says there is no typical foster youth in Rappahannock County, “everybody is unique.”
“Some kids come in because of physical abuse — someone actually hitting them and physically hurting them. More often it’s neglect, which is not adequately providing supervision for them, not meeting their needs in terms of simple nutrition and caregiving,” she describes.
“We have a significant number of kids that come in as a result of [parental] opioid use. That’s not a reason by itself, there has to be neglect. Just because you’ve have used opioids is not a reason for your kids to come into care. But of the neglect cases there is a portion that are because the parents have had some problems with opioids,” she says.
“There’s all range of kids, a range of socio economic situations — it’s not all kids living in poverty, it’s people you meet on the street, that you see at the Corner Store, and you wouldn’t be expecting them to have problems and it turns out that they are. We’ve got babies coming into foster care at 1-day-old because they are opioid exposed and we have 17-year-olds coming into foster care because it’s not working out at home. And everybody in between.”
The judge also called attention to the new Family First Prevention Services Act, signed into law by President Trump. It curtails the use of congregate or group care for children and places a new emphasis on family foster homes. To continue to be eligible for federal reimbursement for its foster cases, Rappahannock County would soon have to abide by the legislation’s requirements.
With limited exceptions, the federal government would not reimburse states and counties for children placed in group care settings for more than two weeks. State officials are currently reviewing their policies and developing plans that are in line with the latest guidelines.
“When that changes and we’re not prepared with local foster homes that could have a huge impact on our local budget,” Cupp warns.
“What I want people to know is these kids are amazing kids,” she concludes. “Despite all of the trauma, and all of the difficulties of their circumstances, they are fun and funny and charming and adorable and normal in a lot of ways.”