May is Foster Care Awareness Month, which creates an opportunity to highlight the challenges, triumphs, and tragedies that still exist within Virginia's foster care system.
The post-COVID-19 environment created a surge in substance use, mental health, and domestic violence-related incidents- which has had an unfortunate downstream impact on the Child Welfare system. There were over 35,000 cases of abuse and neglect in Virginia last year alone. While many of these kids are able to be placed in kinship arrangements or their families are given supportive services, there are many more who have no other option than to enter into the foster care system. There are currently 5,000 kids in care and approximately 1,600 that are seeking a place to call home- a place to belong. Sadly, Virginia still ranks #50 in the nation for kids aging out of the foster care system- meaning that these kids never found a family to belong to before the age of 18.
Virginia's Kids Belong (VKB) is an organization dedicated to helping every kid in care achieve a sense of belonging. We leverage the three community pillars to partner with faith, government and business leaders to solve the community's toughest problems for the most vulnerable among us. One of our focal areas is recruiting, retaining and supporting the foster families that sacrifice so much to open their hearts and homes to Virginia's foster youth.
This May we are honored to launch a statewide "Foster Friendly Business Initiative" to support Foster Families and the kiddos they care for in every community across the Commonwealth. Sadly, the number one reason why Foster Parents leave the system is due to a "lack of community support." Being a parent is hard enough- being a foster parent is even harder and often can be a lonely endeavor. Additionally, Foster Families watch their household budgets increase overnight- family outings, activities and entertainment intended to create bonding moments- can be inaccessible for the majority of families.
That is why we are asking Business leaders, whether they be a small business on Main Street that can offer a discount, or a Corporate partner that supports foster kids and families in other ways- to get involved and become a part of the system of care in their communities. There are many ways that businesses (big and small) can support kids and families in Virginia's foster care system- here are just a few:
- Give an economic uplift to a former foster care youth: Partner with a local community college to offer an internship to a former foster care youth through the Great Expectations program
- Create a Supportive Space for your Foster Care Family Employees: Adopt HR Policies that appreciate and create space for Foster Families
- Honor the Sacrifice: Create an offering to Foster Families (akin to a military discount or offer for those that serve).
- Give Back: Become a corporate sponsor and invest back into programs that support kids finding their forever families (sponsor an "I Belong Project" shoot)
- Get Creative! Many businesses have offerings and discounts they already offer that could be considered "Foster Friendly" as well- there are lots of ways to support foster families
What Do I Get in Return:
Depending on how businesses chose to engage, this is a relatively low-cost (in some cases free), very high-impact way to show corporate responsibility and social stewardship for your community.
Once you determine which way you'd like to support this special group of families and kids, VKB will upload you to a national mobile app that any licensed Foster Care parent can access. This app is able to populate the businesses, community resources and faith organizations that have been designated as "foster friendly," and serves as a very visible display of support- that their community has their back.
You will also be uploaded onto our homepage, celebrated on social media and sent a "Foster Friendly Business" toolkit for you to share on your local pages and with media.
We will also be hosting annual events with local elected, Governor's staff and other community partners as our initiative grows over the next year. Our first launch will be in partnership with Ballad Health System, the Bristol Chamber and other business/local leaders on May 5th with more coming online over the next several months. We are happy to help any corporate partner set up their own launch with our local media tool kit as well as help bring local elected and community partners to the table should you be interested in hosting a launch in a particular region or locality.