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Info session on foster care set

A free informational session on becoming a foster or adoptive family through the Up Center is set for this Saturday at the Virginia Diner in Wakefield.

The agency is expanding its foster care program west of Suffolk, where few foster and adoption agencies exist, said Ronnie Gehring, director of placement services for the Up Center. It’s targeting a swath of the state south and east of Petersburg down to Suffolk, he said.

“We are always looking for families, and that includes the seven cities,” Gehring said. “We continue to turn kids away from foster care programs, because we don’t have enough homes, so they go to other agencies or the Department of Social Services.”

The Up Center is a specialized foster care and adoption agency that provides training for families to handle difficult cases, such as children with mental issues. It also specializes in older children and larger siblings groups, which are difficult to place through the Social Services departments.

When a Social Services department is unable to place a child, it refers the case to agencies such as the Up Center, which refer their families to the Social Services department. Social Services remains in control, Gehring said, but the agencies such as the Up Center give it a leg up in the search for a family.

Gehring said families in Western Tidewater are particularly needed, though it’s hard to tell how great the need is.

“We really don’t know what kind of a need there is because that’s kind of an untapped area,” Gehring said. “Not only could homes in that area serve children from that area, there are a lot of kids that are growing up in the cities that probably need to be away from that environment.”

Gehring said Saturday’s event, in addition to providing a free lunch, will answer general questions about foster care in addition to specifics on the Up Center.

“We don’t try to sugarcoat things,” he said. “It’s hard work to be a foster parent. But we don’t want to scare people off, either.”

He said the event also will dispel some of the biggest myths about foster care, such as that foster parents do it only for financial gain.

“Most parents end up paying more money than what they receive,” he said. “They go above and beyond what they’re required to do.”

Other myths include that parents have to be married, own a home, have kids of their own, be a stay-at-home parent, have a college degree or be wealthy to foster or adopt.

“I really hope that people, even if they’re just moderately interested, show up on Saturday,” Gehring said, adding there’s no obligation to make a decision immediately. “A lot of people come and they may sit on the decision for several months, and that’s perfectly fine.”

The information session is for adults 25 and older. If you are married, both spouses should attend.

The session at the Virginia Diner, 408 County Drive, Wakefield, will take place from noon to 1:30 p.m.

Registration by Thursday is requested, but walk-ins are welcome. To register, call 965-8649 or email heather.watkins@theupcenter.org.