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Real Stories of Adoption and Foster Care

Family, belonging, acceptance, love -- The Real Stories of Foster & Adoptive Families is a compilation of the compelling anecdotes from foster families across the state of Virginia. These Virginians share the true stories of how families were started, reunited and strengthened through foster care and adoption. If you or someone you know is willing to share an adoption or foster care story, please email public.affairs@dss.virginia.gov. To view a list of archived stories, please click here.

Thompson Family

When I was 12 years old, my older sister and I entered into the foster care system. My mother had fallen on hard times and was no longer able to provide for the both of us. Even though I was only twelve...

Laney Family

On March 15, 2018, I entered the foster care system. I was sixteen and seeking legal emancipation. The judge ruled in favor of foster care, where I remained for six months. That may not seem long in the world of foster care...

Mapanoo Family

For nearly seven years, Joel and I have been foster parents. Fostering was a calling in our lives. It was our way to help children and families in need in our community. To us, foster parents are meant to be safe havens for children...

McKensie Family

We started our foster care journey in 2008. Our biological children were in high school and we really wanted a little one in the house with us, but our local department of social services needed foster families for teenagers...

Shonka Family

I will never forget walking out of the hospital four years ago, holding an infant carrier with a premature baby girl fast asleep in it - our very first foster care placement. The feelings of fear, anticipation, and gratefulness...

Smith Family

We first began our foster care journey out of an abundant love for children and a longing to help our community. Being able to actually reach the children that come into our home, no matter what condition they enter in...

Casper Family

From the beginning, our caseworker and foster family were supportive of the reunification process. Both were very involved, caring, and attentive to our needs as we worked to reunite our family. Our caseworker...

M.W.

I was a teenager when my struggle with addiction began. It may have been due to an unaddressed trauma and only having negative coping mechanisms, however my drug addiction led to abusing meth...

Williams Family

In August of 2017, after being homeless for three months, my children were placed into kinship care with their aunt. At times, I was not able to see my kids as I worked through the reunification process and received assistance...

Johnathan S.

Two years ago, I made the decision to get involved with drugs. I didn't care about anything else in the world except for my addiction. In June of 2019, I was arrested on multiple warrants and a drug charge possession...

Sandstrom Family

Bridget Sandstrom shares her video testimony of her road to recovery and reunification with her son thanks to help from the department of social services...

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Thompson Family

When I was 12 years old, my older sister and I entered into the foster care system. My mother had fallen on hard times and was no longer able to provide for the both of us. Even though I was only twelve, I understood that my mother was not a bad person, she just needed time to pick herself back up.

My sister and I were placed with a family of five: a couple and their three younger children. From the very beginning, our foster parents made efforts to partner with our biological parents. They communicated with our parents about our health and behaviors, checking in regularly with our mother through phone calls and visits. At the time, our mother worked two jobs so visits were more difficult, but our foster parents and mother tried to make visits as regular as possible. They prioritized our time together because it was in the best interest of my sister and I to maintain that relationship.

Our foster parents understood the importance of keeping a connection with our birth family and keeping a connection to our culture. Although they were not Hispanic or Latinx themselves, our foster family made a point to learn Spanish and even learned to make Spanish foods. They celebrated our Hispanic culture with us - together, as a family.

When I was 17, I asked my foster parents to adopt me. My sister and I had lived with them for nearly our entire foster care journey. After consideration, our foster parents decided that it was in our best interests to be adopted. I was able to maintain a positive relationship with my mother and had the full support and encouragement of my now-adoptive parents.

At the end of the day, I think that encouraging and supporting a strong and positive relationship with birth families keeps children in foster care connected with who they are and where they come from. My adoptive parents and mother now have a relationship in which they extend invitations to parties and graduations just to spend time together. My sister is living with our adoptive parents in Florida and we all talk regularly. I am now living with my mom and 4-month-old sister in Northern Virginia while I finish my college degree.

- Monica Lizama Thompson

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Laney Family

On March 15, 2018, I entered the foster care system. I was sixteen and seeking legal emancipation. The judge ruled in favor of foster care, where I remained for six months. That may not seem long in the world of foster care, but for me, it was a really long time. When I was first introduced to my foster family, I was nervous and scared. I didn't know who they were or how they would treat me.

As I was adjusting to my new life with my foster family, my social worker encouraged me to consider reunification with my mother. We were estranged and I was reluctant and hesitant to move forward with that process, but with the support and encouragement of my foster parents, I was able to rebuild my mother and I's relationship on my own terms. My foster family helped me learn appropriate boundaries with my mother all while giving me space to be a kid. I think that it is important for foster parents to have an understanding and positive attitude towards reunification. Being there for foster children, especially teens, means supporting potential reunification, supporting honesty, and supporting transparency.

In August of 2018, I was reunited with my mother. It has been three years since I lived with my former foster parents and we still have a positive relationship. We visit each other throughout the year, and call and text each other often. I'm currently working on two associate's degrees, and soon after will transfer to a four-year college where I plan to major in criminal justice. I'm currently an intern in the same social services agency that placed me with my foster family, advocating for honesty and transparency for other children in the foster care system.

- Andrea Laney

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Mapanoo Family

For nearly seven years, Joel and I have been foster parents. Fostering was a calling in our lives. It was our way to help children and families in need in our community. To us, foster parents are meant to be safe havens for children and a support for families. We already had three biological children, and because of foster care, we were able to welcome more children into our family. We keep our children connected to their biological families, and after they physically leave our homes, we stay connected to them as their foster family.

It is impossible to list all of the rewarding parts about fostering a child. Seeing our first placements' biological family become self-sufficient and get their girls back, officially adopting our daughter, and even hearing how we've had a lasting impact on our very first foster daughter's achievements are some of our greatest successes as a foster family. All of these milestones really capture how foster care has changed our lives for the better.

Like any journey in life, foster care has its ups and downs, but we have grown in compassion and patience within ourselves as foster parents, as a couple, as a family, and within our community. We now have five wonderful kids: Danielle, a high school senior who is on the nursing career track; Eli, a seventh grader and basketball star; Noah, a fourth grader and avid chef; Addison, a third grader and caretaker of animals; and Adrian, who holds down the fort at home and is the ultimate Hot Wheels collector.

- Chelsea and Joel Mapanoo

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McKensie Family

We started our foster care journey in 2008. Our biological children were in high school and we really wanted a little one in the house with us, but our local department of social services needed foster families for teenagers. We really wanted a chance to give back to our community, and looking back, it was the best thing that we could have ever done. We were able to give the kids a new beginning, teach them that you can recover from your mistakes, and help them make decisions that could turn their lives around.

Being a foster parent is not a cookie-cutter experience. Although every child handles the same situations differently, most often these children have been put in situations that require survival tactics. We worked to build trust with our kids. We tried to be supportive and be a listening ear. We saw their attitudes and behaviors grow and change for the better despite others having given up on them in the past. When our kids had an opportunity to make a poor choice, they learned to make the right one. We watched them put forth effort. There was joy in watching our children achieve goals that social services set for them, as well as the ones that they set for themselves.

My husband of 23 years, Seaver, and I have four children: Tyquan (29), TeQuante (27), Adiva (24), and Marquis (16). My kids come over during the holidays and their kids call me grandma. They call to ask for recipes or for help with financial aid forms. Our success as a family comes from ensuring that support comes while they are at home with me and long after they start their own families. My foster family is my forever family.

- Theresa & Seaver McKensie

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Shonka Family

I will never forget walking out of the hospital four years ago, holding an infant carrier with a premature baby girl fast asleep in it - our very first foster care placement. The feelings of fear, anticipation, and gratefulness to be able to help were all swirling around in my head. This year, our family welcomed our fourth placement, and the feelings from that first day outside the hospital have remained the same.

Our foster care journey began when our youngest of four was 3 years old and my husband and I began a foster parent training course through Community Attention Foster Families in Charlottesville, Virginia. I am a stay-at-home mom and we have space in our home for another child, so we open our home to children in our community who need a safe place. Our family values every life and deeply believes that everyone deserves a second chance. We have found great joy not only in providing a home for our four foster children, but also in embracing their families as they seek help and work to bring health to their family.

One of our placements, a 2-year-old little boy, lived with us for 14 months. He was reunited with his family about two years ago. After the judge granted reunification, the biological dad turned to me and said, "We did it!" It was a gift to us to be able to provide a loving home for our foster son while being able to cheer on his dad as he worked tirelessly to bring his family back together. We were a team working together with the end goal of reunifying the children with their families. My husband and I try to openly communicate to our foster children's parents that we are not seeking to adopt their child, or be better parents to them; instead, we are caring for their child until their family can be made whole again. The reality is that, in this world, we all struggle and need support. We have been so grateful to walk alongside these families to work together for the sake of a safer, more secure life for the children.

Every new placement brings out fear and anticipation. At the beginning, you ask yourself, "What will this situation be like? How will the parents view our role in this? What challenges will we face? What is the child like? How will this affect my family?" I started out fostering as a means of helping children in need, but I have learned just how important it is to put myself in the biological parents' shoes. Assuring them that their child is safe with us until they can return home is important to me. After our foster children have been reunified with their family, the only feeling that remains with me is gratitude. I am grateful to have helped. I am grateful to have been a part of the healing and a part of the journey to bringing children safely back home, where they are meant to be.

- Katy & David Shonka

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Smith Family

We first began our foster care journey out of an abundant love for children and a longing to help our community. Being able to actually reach the children that come into our home, no matter what condition they enter in, has been the greatest reward of our foster care journey. Each year thus far, we have the joy of seeing each child in our care blossom. This month, we will celebrate the nineteenth year of our foster parent journey. We will be celebrating our foster family journey together as a family of twelve: husband, wife, and ten excellent children.

Over the course of our foster care journey, the most important lesson for us has been to keep an open mind. We have built a routine together by participating in church, school, and extracurricular and community activities. Day-by-day, we emphasize to our children the importance of connecting - with each other, and with their families. Fostering is not always easy, but it is always worth it to see our children overcome, excel, and dream. It has been a daily commitment to loving each child, to communicating, to being patient, and to providing them with stability and guidance.

Our first foster son had a life-long dream to become a U.S. Marine and we watched him turn that dream into a goal. As of last year, he is an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps. While his success story may be different from another child, because every child has different needs, different goals and different personalities, it is important to remember that they are capable of overcoming any obstacle if given the support to grow into the individual that they were meant to be.

- Smith Family

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Casper Family

From the beginning, our caseworker and foster family were supportive of the reunification process. Both were very involved, caring, and attentive to our needs as we worked to reunite our family. Our caseworker made us aware of various programs and resources that we took advantage of, including individual and family therapy, parenting classes geared towards kids who experienced trauma, and personalized mentorship programs.

One of the services that made a significant difference in the reunification process was access to transportation. Due to my mentor's efforts in finding us a means of transportation, I was able to make appointments, take care of errands, and seek assistance from other programs, like the Network to Work program from Piedmont Virginia Community College. I was also able to attend financial family planning seminars and professional development classes to better prepare for employment opportunities and interviews! Our children also had mentors that they interacted with, including quality engagement time and tutoring.

Our caseworker kept us informed of every family planning meeting, so we were never confused about anything in the process. Because of the supportive people and services, our family stayed on track with the reunification process, addressed the challenges, and was permanently reunited!

Now, we are doing great! I hope every family going through this process takes advantage of every program available and offered. All of the extra knowledge and support that you can get can only help you!

- Casper Family

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M.W.

I was a teenager when my struggle with addiction began. It may have been due to an unaddressed trauma and only having negative coping mechanisms, however my drug addiction led to abusing meth and making poor choices for myself and my family. My children were taken into the of social services in October 2020.

Despite the beginning stages being beyond difficult, my local department of social services cheered me on the entire time. Specifically, my caseworker, Cannon Morris, was a huge advocate and source of strength for myself and my family. The resilience my caseworker exhibited inspired me to continue with the program and seek additional help.

I was determined to put myself through a drug rehab program. While I was there, I had a video call with my son and had a flashback to when I was in foster care. I remembered having similar conversations and my mom saying, "I'll see you soon," and it did not happen. From that moment, I decided that I did not want to make false promises to my kids. I wanted my kids back - I wanted ME back.

Through perseverance and hard work, I was reunified with all of my children! I hope to continue sharing my story with others in the community so they know that success can happen. I want other parents going through a similar situation to know that reunification is possible.

- M.W.

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Williams Family

In August of 2017, after being homeless for three months, my children were placed into kinship care with their aunt. At times, I was not able to see my kids as I worked through the reunification process and received assistance. I was discouraged and it was not always easy to stay on track, however, I remained vigilant.

As I was adjusting to the program, I was in the process of a trial placement to have my children returned. However, I did make a mistake and wasn't able to regain custody at that time.

During 2020, there were some challenges with visitation and I wasn't able to see or had very limited in-person contact with my kids. At this time, I lost my rights and was faced with the possibility of my children being placed for adoption. I continued to push myself to be as active as possible in their lives despite the challenges. Thankfully, I was given another chance, returned to supervised visits, and into trial placement.

Fast forward to the beginning of 2021, I now have full custody of my children and we are doing great! My children experienced trauma due to being separated, and I am now in the process of getting the services they need to heal and move forward with their lives.

- Williams Family

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Johnathan S.

Two years ago, I made the decision to get involved with drugs. I didn't care about anything else in the world except for my addiction. In June of 2019, I was arrested on multiple warrants and a drug charge possession. Two of my kids entered foster care, and I was unable to see my two other kids who were with their mother. I was completely broken and didn't know what to do.

Things began to look up when I connected with a Veterans Affairs representative. He told me that it would be a good idea if I went through a rehabilitation program. At the time, I was unaware that this was even an option, so I said yes.

When released from jail, I waited for a spot to open at the rehabilitation facility. I was homeless for about two weeks and would sleep on a park bench at a local store, waiting for my spot to open. When my time finally came, I went to a facility at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Richmond and another in Hampton. I spent four months in in-patient rehab trying to get my life together, not only for myself but for my kids.

The program was not easy. I spent a lot of time crying at night, and I was at an all-time low. However, I truly believed that my job was not done until I got my family back, and nothing was getting in my way. It took time, patience, and a lot of work, but eventually, I was able to get a place for myself and my kids. I received custody of my oldest two children, and later my younger two who were in foster care. All of my criminal charges were dropped, and now I have my family back.

- Johnathan S.

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Sandstrom Family

Bridget Sandstrom shares her video testimony of her road to recovery and reunification with her son thanks to help from the department of social services. "Whoever is listening to this, I want you to know it's not over. You can be where I'm at. Keep your head up, keep going - be the success story. I never thought I could do it, and that's where I was wrong. I should have always known I could do it. You can do it, too."

- Sandstrom Family

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