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Virginia first lady works to improve state's foster care system

March 27th, 2007 1:48 am by CLIFFORD JEFFERY

BRISTOL, Va. - A 3-year-old whose mother was arrested for speeding and DUI with the child in the car. A 6-year-old whose mother attempted suicide in the child's presence. A 17-year-old whose father and mother are both deceased.

Children like these are taken into a system of area foster homes where they may or may not thrive. Some may be in the system for a month, while others could be there through their 18th birthday.

Virginia first lady Anne Holton met with parents and children in the foster care system Monday evening at the Bristol Public Library.

A former judge, Holton is advocating for a new program, For Keeps Youth and Family.

"I can use this pulpit for something I care about - foster kids. Something I saw and cared about while on the bench and now," she said.

Holton said she has been asking how foster families can be more successful.

"So many age out of the program without any family connections, and statistics show it isn't a good way to leave the system. Those kids are at a real disadvantage," Holton said.

About half of the 8,000 Virginia children in foster care are above the age of 11.

Holton is working with a steering committee that is trying to determine what works well in successful foster families.

"We're taking this first six months to listen and collect data. That is why I'm here tonight," she said.

A former foster child named Patricia told Holton she was taken from her biological family when she was 15 and placed in a foster home. From that first home, she left and went through another home before getting to the final one, which she calls her family.

"This family makes me feel like I can do it. To have someone stand behind you and say ‘you can do it' means so much," she said.

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