Foster Parents Share Experience, Address Need of Foster Families

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The Shaeffers, with their adopted daughter The Shaeffers, with their adopted daughter

People Places in Charlottesville and the Shenandoah Valley is celebrating families who open their homes to children as part of National Foster Care Awareness Month.

For Erin Schaeffer, who works part time as a counselor, becoming a foster parent was a dream come true.

“We have fostered either short term, or long term, or even adopted 11 children,” Erin Schaeffer said.

Her husband, Ryan, says they've fallen in love with all of them, but that doesn't mean it's been easy.

“Some of the first nights were some of the hardest sitting with kids as they tried to understand what was going on at five and six years old,” Ryan Schaeffer said.

The Schaeffers remember the first little boy placed with them, a seven-year-old.

“I don't think I realized a kid could be in so much pain,” Ryan Schaeffer said.

Though difficult, the couple explains why they kept up with the service.

“I think once you start foster care, once you get involved, once you live foster care…it's a journey, once you live this journey, you can't turn a blind eye to it anymore,” Erin Schaeffer said.

In Staunton, Waynesboro, and Augusta County, there are 163 kids in the foster care system.

“We're getting referrals every week of children that are coming into foster care that we can't place, because we don't have the families to place them with,” Melissa Blinn of People Places said.

Finding families who take siblings, or older kids, can be especially challenging.

“We have a great number of kids who are over the age of 10 who are really awesome and who need a foster home and some of them need a permanent home,” Blinn said.

Blinn says there are a variety of reasons that families who may want to foster shy away.

“Maybe they think they're not good enough, or don't have enough money, or they already have kids,” Blinn said.

“We hear a variety of different statements. I think the one we hear probably the most is, ‘I could never do that, I could never watch a kid go home, I would get too attached,’” Ryan Schaeffer said.

But the Schaeffer's say that's the point.

“The most important thing for us is that when these kids are with us they have a home that they are safe and they are loved,” Ryan Schaeffer said.

The Schaeffers adopted their daughter, Mariah, after fostering her for two and half years.

They say foster care is tough, but worth it.

“Knowing that I was there for a kid when they needed someone the most is more than I think enough,” Ryan Schaeffer said.

“I always tell people, it's the hardest job you'll ever love,” Erin Schaeffer said.

The Schaeffers say they couldn't have fostered children without People Places, including midnight calls, counseling, and support groups.

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