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Businesses Help Support Foster Families Through New Program

Mark and Mary Earley
Mark and Mary Earley have been foster parents for the past six months. (Megan Pauly)

State officials including Virginia Governor Ralph Northam and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney launched the Foster Friendly Business program on Tuesday morning.

The program encourages Virginia companies to offer discounts and incentives to foster families. The YMCA was the first to join, offering half-off memberships to foster families in the Commonwealth.

Advocates like Janet Kelly, president of Virginia’s Kids Belong, hope business leaders will be able to not only support current foster families, but help encourage other families to foster kids in Virginia. Nationally, about half of foster parents stop fostering within the first year of becoming foster parents.

“50% of foster families quit because of a lack of social support, not because of reunification,” Kelly said.

Aaron Mathes is VP of consulting with CGI. His company funded the creation of a 12-video awareness campaign about 12 different foster children in Virginia.

“And eight of those kids have been placed into permanent adoptive homes, eight of the 12,” Mathes said.

About a year ago, Mark and Mary Earley made the decision to become foster parents. Mary Earley was already at home with their son most days of the week, so it made sense.

“By just extending that to another child that could set potentially set them on a totally different trajectory in a very difficult time in their life...that's pretty powerful to think that we could offer that,” she said.

Mark Earley says it’s been a learning experience. But, he says he and Mary are in it for the long haul. They said they’d even consider adoption if it came to that and if their foster child could not be reunited with family members (which is always the ultimate goal of fostering).

“It’s just emphasized to me that in life when you when you end up pouring yourself out for somebody else, that's really when you get filled up yourself,” he said.

Statewide, around 5,200 children are in foster care, including close to 300 in Richmond. Of those over 850 are available for adoption, including about 60 in Richmond, according to city figures. 

Megan Pauly covers education and healthcare issues in the greater Richmond region. She was a 2020-21 reporting fellow with ProPublica's Local Reporting Network and a 2019-20 reporting fellow with the Education Writers Association.