Currently in Caroline there are 23 kids in foster care, but only two of them are with families in the county. The others have been placed throughout the state. The Caroline Department of Social Services (DSS) and Caroline Foster Committee have declared that the county is in dire need of foster parents, “resource families.” The committee is a subcommittee of the Caroline Resource Council created by DSS. Foster parent Tina Gambill was named chairperson in January. Gambill and her husband Brian live in Bowling Green, and have fostered 32 children since 2009, six of them from Caroline.
Their journey began in 1992, when they were called upon to take care of two children within their extended family. “Our hope was that their biological parents would step up and take them,” Gambill said, but that was not the case, so they obtained legal guardianship. The Gambills have three biological children. At the time they were one, three and six years old. The two initial fosters added another one- and three-year old to the family.
“It was like having two sets of twins,” Gambill said. When the youngest of their kids turned 18, they decided to try out foster care. They went to Caroline DSS to become a resource family for the county. Halfway through their certification classes and training, Caroline dropped out of the program, so they ended up fostering for Spotsylvania County, also helping out with Louisa and Prince William counties.
Gambill explained that DSS was in disarray at the time, but today has been transformed with the help Director Wendy Sneed, among others. Sneed is a determined advocate for keeping these foster children close to home.
After seven years of working with Spotsylvania, the Gambills are in the process of making the switch to Caroline. The Foster Committee is very serious about recruiting resource families in the county for a number of reasons: It is important for the children to stay in their schools and still be around their friends and family. Placing them elsewhere in the state causes hardship and costs the county money.
Gambill stressed that it is very hard on the caseworkers. A Caroline caseworker may have 10 children throughout the state and must make once-monthly visits to each. The other 12 days of the month are devoted to scheduling family visitations, attending school meetings and all court cases. These workers do not get overtime—just comp time that is never used, due to fear of getting behind in their work.
“These girls get so burnt out that they not only quit after a year or two, but they leave the field altogether,” Gambill said.
Resource families have it hard as well. For example, if a family in Virginia Beach is taking care of a Caroline child, they have to drive to up here for court cases and family visitations.
“They may have to leave the house by 6 a.m. to be at court by 9 a.m. and get someone to watch the child to get them on the school bus,” Gambill said, “and the state does not allow just anyone to watch foster children.”
A few Caroline residents foster through outside private agencies. The Social Services Department having been understaffed for a long time prompted people to work with other regions. Gambill, the foster committee and DSS want the public of Caroline to know that there are children here that need a home.
The department also wants emergency placement volunteers. This service is needed when a child is in a bad or violent situation and has to placed right away. A volunteer will be called immediately and the child will stay with them for a maximum of 30 days until placement in long-term care.
The number-one goal of foster care is to reunite these children with their biological families. Several of the children the Gambills take in have since been returned to their families. Nowadays, if the immediate or extended family is not able to take them after 12-18 months of being in foster care, they are put up for adoption on the state website. That makes it harder to accomplish this goal when they are placed in a faraway county.
Fostering has many rewards as well as challenges. Gambill says it is a labor of love. Resource families are given stipends for food and materials, a small clothing allowance every six months and all medical expenses are covered by Medicaid. There is no real profit and no real debt.
The Gambills have had lots of children that come from abusive situations. Some have PTSD and lack basic skills for their age levels.
“It is my goal to open doors for these children,” Gambill said. “We had a teen come to us once that could not read and went through the school system without being identified. In eight months of living with us, they were on the 4th grade reading level. That may not seem impressive, but when you come from not being able to read at all, we helped them move forward to get their driver’s license and be able to fill out a job application, so they can extend their academic career and improve their lot in life.”
When Gambill goes out and about, she always mentions the fact that she is a foster parent to let people know they can do this and help a child in the county. As the Caroline Foster Committee chairwoman she goes to civic meetings and churches to help spread the word. Anybody willing to go through the background checks and training, and who has the time, love and patience, should apply.
“A single person can be a foster parent. A 65-year-old that does well with teenagers—we need you,” Gambill said.
If you are interested in becoming a resource parent for Caroline County, call Tina Gambill at 804-633-6310 or the Caroline County Department of Social Services at 804-633-5071 and ask for the front desk. They will direct to the right person.
By Bridget Douglas – CP Reporter