Bill and Shirley Gary’s “Three Musketeers” smile for a family portrait. The Gary children are three of many to benefit from the Northern Neck Foster Care program.
Bill and Shirley Gary had already raised three daughters to adulthood with a fourth soon to graduate high school, but they still had more love to give.
They always wanted a boy, so they contacted the Department of Social Services to see if they could provide a home to a child in need. They waited patiently, and the results surpassed their wishes.
Through the Northern Neck Foster Parent program (NNFP), the Garys didn’t just adopt one boy, but two brothers who shared a close bond with each other.
After falling in love with the boys, helping them overcome adversity and become a loving part of the family, Bill and Shirley went back to the foster care program and brought home another girl, an eight-year-old whom they said fit right in, instantly sharing their love of their farm animals.
Northern Neck Foster Care played an intricate role in helping the Garys’ dreams come true and Northumberland’s Social Services Director Jackie Clayton said in an interview that she wants to see more success stories like Bill and Shirley’s.
“We don’t have enough foster parents,” Clayton said. “We only have 23 foster parents for the five counties…so we don’t always have the foster homes available when we need them.”
Clayton reported that Northumberland, Lancaster, Westmoreland, and Essex Counties each had five while Richmond County had three.
“We’re pretty much short everywhere,” she added.
But Clayton pointed out that the program is always striving for opportunities to recruit more foster parents through attending events and meetings, sending their business cards throughout the five counties, and putting up advertisements.
“I would do newspaper articles [and NNFP] would do radio ads,” she said. “River County Foundation was so generous and gave us a grant to do some billboards on Route 17 and Route 3.”
Clayton added that Georgia Sprague, the coordinator and designated consortium of NNFP has been very active in promoting the agency.
“Georgia goes out and speaks to churches, she goes to community functions…there was a domestic violence awareness [event where] she set up a booth,” Clayton said.
In discussing upcoming plans for recruitment, the director said that Sprague will target Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and PTAs, citing the parents’ involvement in their children’s lives as a key factor in their search.
“We were trying to go to where those parents already took that extra step and we do have some fantastic foster parents,” Clayton said. “If we could just get a few more…”
Foster parents like the Garys have made it possible for the agency to succeed. The social services director reported that within the past year and a half, Northumberland County’s caseload dropped from 15 to two with nine of the children in foster care being adopted, most of them by their foster parents whom Clayton praised for their dedication.
“We ask that they treat the kids as their own,” Clayton said. “They have to take them to the doctor’s appointments [and] they have to go to the school if the child has some behaviors.
“They have to bus them up and down for extracurricular activities,” she continued, noting that the program supports the parents as much they can through stipends, specialized training, and therapists for behavioral transitions.
Clayton said that, although the NNFP’s initiative is to return the children home before considering adoption, the agency’s end goal is to keep them in the community in any way they can.
“The children are our children and what ends up happening is if we don’t’ have a home, we have to call one of the therapeutic foster companies like they have in Richmond,” Clayton said, adding that in the end the children don’t only lose their families, but they also leave their teachers, friends and livelihood behind.
“It’s bad enough being taken out of your home,” she continued. “But if you could at least keep your friends and your teachers and your school… that’s why it’s so important that we try to keep the kids [here].”
Clayton also emphasized the importance of keeping brothers and sisters together.
“The program is very big on keeping the sibling connection,” she said. “You don’t want to remove the kids and then separate [them]…it’s not anything that we will do.”
In discussing the Garys’ newest addition to their family, Shirley Gary felt fortunate that another local family adopted her daughter’s two brothers, making it possible for the two families to hold sibling get-togethers.
Officials at Northumberland’s social services department said that they were grateful for the Garys’ willingness to adopt.
“It has taken lots of love, patience, therapy and education to help these boys overcome their past,” Shirley told Clayton in an email. “Let me tell you the rewards of seeing them becoming free of hurts, fears and feeling safe are worth all the hard work you put into your days of raising your children.”
She continued: “At some point when you look into their faces and no longer see fear and mistrust, but in its place glimpses of love and peace letting you know you are on the right track.”