TRI-CITIES, Tenn./Va. (WJHL) – Frontier Health says the dire situation facing foster care in our region looks like children sleeping at social services offices while others are shuffled between homes and cared for on a night-to-night basis.

This comes as the number of children entering the system far outweighs the number of foster homes available to take them in.

“They could be sleeping at an office that night or a hotel room. That’s the hard thing,” said Alex Enriquez, a Frontier Health VALUES program foster parent recruiter and trainer.

“We need to get in front of the curve instead of playing catch up, which is what we are doing,” said Enriquez.

Frontier Health operates two foster placement programs, VALUES in Virginia and TRACES in Tennessee.

The great need stems in part from the pandemic, as fewer kids were seen by adults who could report abuse or neglect at home.

“But right now, there’s an influx of kids coming into the system,” said Enriquez.

Noelle Grimes is the director of children’s continuum services at Frontier Health. She sees the need for more foster parents daily.

“When children are removed right now, there is a shortage, a vast shortage of foster homes,” said Grimes.

Frontier Health’s placement programs focus only on “therapeutic foster homes.” This means the children seeking placement have trauma to work through, developmental or behavioral needs, or require specific support from a foster home.

“We give them extra training and support, how to do behavior modification,” said Grimes.

“When kids come to us it’s because they have an extra need, they’ve been through a trauma where they need extra therapies, counseling services,” said Enriquez.

Both say they do not want this to intimidate parents. Frontier Health programs provide 24/7 support for placements and extensive training on how to respond to the child’s specific needs.

Plus, having that support in a hard time is transformational for these children.

“They are able to see role models, they are able to see the family experience so they are able to grow and heal their traumas so that those behaviors don’t continue,” said Enriquez. “Every child is just one adult away from success.”

Enriquez added that without those positive influences, many children who are removed from their families have little to no pathway to success.

“The majority of kids that do age out of the system, I’d say about half, end up homeless immediately. They have no other place to go,” said Enriquez.

She added that a common stigma of fostering is that many people think they will get too attached and not be able to let go.

“You don’t lose them. You’ve touched them, you’ve changed a part of their life,” said Enriquez. “We’ve had some amazing teens that have come through our program and to watch them be able to succeed and have success is amazing.”

Frontier Health’s two licensed child-placing agencies, TRACES, and VALUES, work with foster parents by providing access to:

  • Training and guidance
  • 24/7 support
  • Reimbursement for providing care to children
  • Links to other services required
  • Access to “in-house” services for their children, such as therapy and medication management with a designated therapist and psychiatrist

To learn more or to apply to TRACES (TN) Therapeutic Foster Care, visit their website here.

To learn more or to apply to VALUES (VA) Therapeutic Foster Care, visit their website here.