A $300,000 grant from the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) allows the Department of Social Work to continue training prospective foster and adoptive parents in a 17-county area of West Virginia. Angela Bender ’99, Shepherd PRIDE site coordinator and trainer, hopes more people will step forward to take the training so they can help the increasing number of children who need foster care because of the state’s opioid epidemic.
“We have more children who have been taken into custody by the state whose parents, due to an addiction, are unable to care for them,” Bender said. “We have relatives who do step up and care for these children, but we have other cases where that’s not a possibility.”
PRIDE stands for Parent Resource for Information, Development, and Education. It’s a seven-week course offering 21 hours of training for people interested in becoming foster or adoptive parents and for relatives who are caring for a family member who is in state custody.
Bender said the topics covered include the court process, attachment issues with children in foster care, how to meet a child’s developmental needs, the loss and the grieving process, discipline and appropriate ways to handle behaviors, how to help children maintain a connection to biological family, and race and ethnicity. Shepherd offers about 14 training sessions during a fiscal year, with about 20 people attending each session.
For Bender, being able to offer PRIDE training to prospective foster and adoptive parents is personal. She and her husband, Matt, completed the training in 2005 and since then have fostered about 15 children and adopted nine.
“Foster care and adoption have been the greatest blessing of our lives, so I cannot say enough about what that journey has been for us,” Bender said. “We have beautiful children and now beautiful grandchildren as a result.”
While foster care and adoption have been the perfect way to build her family, Bender said it’s not a journey everybody will want to take.
“It can be a very difficult process,” she said. “The first goal for children in need of foster care is to reunify them with their family. So, you have to be prepared to love and take care of somebody else’s child and know it might not be forever.”
Shepherd’s grant is funded through Title IV-E of the Social Security Act and provides money for ongoing training to staff and supervisors of the DHHR Bureau of Children and Families. Shepherd has received it each year for 25 years, securing a total of more than $3 million in outside funding support for the program and the university. Bender is glad the training can continue another year.
“We’re always thrilled to see that investment being made in families and children,” she said. “It’s so vital to recruit and train families that can step in during this crisis that our state is experiencing with the opioid epidemic and the increased need for foster parents.”