HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — To Leila Gunning, family is everything.
“I can’t imagine not having a family and not having someone to call, not having a place to go for Thanksgiving,” she said.
When she and her husband couldn’t have a child, they turned to adoption and fostering. Now, they’re the proud parents of two five-year-old boys and a 20-month-old girl.
“We’ve fostered about seven other kids in there,” she said.
Though it isn’t always easy, she believes there’s an urgent need for others to do the same.
“I really think we can do something about this,” she said. “And we can see real change and we can see numbers radically decrease.”
Right now, there are 5,210 children in Virginia’s foster care system. According to the Virginia Department of Social Services (VDSS), about 850 are ready to be adopted.
Former Secretary of the Commonwealth Janet Kelly says Virginia is in the middle of a foster care and adoption crisis.
While Virginia has the lowest number of children entering foster care per capita, it also ranks 48th in the country in terms of the number of children who age out of the foster care system, according to VDSS. Every child who ages out of the system costs taxpayers and communities an average of $300,000 over that child’s lifetime according to The Annie E. Casey Foundation.
Kelly is launching an effort to help tackle the problem. It’s called Virginia’s Kids Belong (VKB). VKB is an affiliate of America’s Kids Belong, an organization co-founded by Kelly and her husband Ryan.
It brings together leaders from the faith, non-profit, creative, business and government spheres for a multi-angled approach to finding a solution and support for all layers of the problem.
About 200 people gathered in Henrico County Thursday morning for the launch.
Virginia’s Kids Belong (VKB)
Virginia’s Kids Belong (VKB) x
Faith leader David Platt, Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant (R-12th District) and Governor-elect Ralph Northam were some of the influencers in attendance.
“It has nothing to do with party. It has to do with passion,” said Delegate-elect Emily Brewer (R-64th District). It’s a mission that’s personal for Brewer.
“I was actually adopted myself,” she said at the event.
Adoption and foster care reform are at the top of her priority list.
“It’s easier to adopt children oftentimes from foreign countries than it is right here in Virginia and so we need to work on changing that,” said Brewer. “There is no greater gift you can give a child than adoption.”