RICHMOND, Va. -- The children in Virginia’s foster system who are ready for adoption face a struggle every day: the stability and structure we may take for granted are elements absent from their lives at a critical stage of development.
They need permanent, loving families to guide them to adulthood where they can be successful and maximize their potential.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made the urgency of placing them in that forever, nurturing environment, even greater.
“I have seen so many adolescents in particular, just crumble under the weight of disconnection, and it’s not having the opportunity to connect with close friends and family amid COVID,” said Dr. Danny Avula, the head of the Richmond and Henrico Health District. “And they need family and it’s important, it’s valuable.”
You are probably used to seeing Avula as he guides the Richmond and Henrico communities through RVA’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But beyond the important community bullet points, Avula is acutely aware of some of the pandemic’s most vulnerable but hidden victims, children in foster care.
“It’s a good thing that we’ve got group homes and foster care,” he said. “But people need permanence. And so I just hope that there are people out there who are willing to open their minds about what family is, and who can be a part of it."
Three years ago, Avula and his wife Mary Kay adopted Arjenae, adding the now-20-year-old to their four biological children.
He says from the minute she joined the family that it was clear: they all belonged together.
He also learned what other adoptive parents have discovered: that an adoptive child brings more joy and love, but also a sense of purpose to their lives.
“I think I went into it because I love kids and I wanted to help,” said Tammy Hoskins, who has adopted a total of eight children over the last two decades. “But in all honesty, these kids have taught me more about myself and caused me to stretch and grow and change, almost as much if not more than I’ve been able to help them. And I think part of it’s actually selfish, that I feel like I’m a better person, having welcomed these kids into my life, and hopefully they feel that they’re a little better off because they were able to call me ‘mom.’”
As the pandemic upends lives across the globe, these parents as well as child advocates point out that in the crisis facing some 800 Virginia children who are ready to be adopted, time is always short, but especially now when time appears to be standing still.
“We need you now more than ever,” said Caitlyn Plaskett, who works as a family services supervisor at the Chesterfield-Colonial Heights Department of Social Services. “These kids, they need a connection, they need someone to start to have visits with because some of these kids don’t have anybody except for maybe staff who are working with them or my workers who are spending time with them.”
Advocates and children who have been adopted all say that even in a pre-COVID time, going through the foster system can be a harrowing experience, without the certainty of a happy resolution.
“They took my brother and placed him in a separate home,” said Ellena McConnell, 24. “Now, you have to imagine it’s virtually your child getting taken away from you. And so that was the most traumatizing thing that could have ever happened to me.”
McConnell says she and her siblings began that difficult journey out of a broken abusive family situation more than a decade ago, when she was seven.
Four years later she was adopted by a devoted, loving single mother, but even then, she says healing has taken a long time.
Still, she points out that for all the disruption and uncertainty that the current pandemic has heaped upon these children, who have suffered in some cases terrible trauma, and who for now do not have the social outlet of in-person school, a brighter day, and the chance of a successful life starts as it always has, with a permanent, loving family.
In McConnell’s case that was Lori.
“I had to learn to be loved and she had to learn my ‘love languages,’” said McConnell. “It was very hard in the beginning, but I knew she would take care of me and I knew she would love me. It turns out I was right. Thank God."
To learn more and becoming a foster to adoption parent(s) click here.