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May is Foster Care Awareness Month

By Margaret Nimmo Holland, Vice President of External Relations, enCircle

EnCircle is a 133-year-old nonprofit organization that is anything but old-fashioned and close-minded. Founded by a Lutheran pastor in 1888 as an orphanage, it has grown exponentially in recent years but often has operated below the radar. “We have been quietly helping children, adults, and families throughout Virginia for over a century, but people needing our help or wanting to support us didn’t always know we were here,” according to CEO Ray Ratke. The organization now supports and educates people with disabilities, provides mental health counseling, helps migrant youth reunite with family in the U.S., and supports foster youth and parents.

As the organization has expanded its footprint, it has also found a louder and clearer voice. In 2020 the organization’s Board of Directors changed its name from Lutheran Family Services of Virginia to EnCircle. “We want to communicate to everyone that our circle is wide, and all are included,” said Ratke. That open circle includes LGBTQ youth in foster care and a diverse group of foster parents.

The Treatment Foster Care program at enCircle has connected children who are in the custody of the Department of Social Services to loving homes for years. These days, the program is usually asked to match teenagers, sibling groups, or children with medical needs with foster parents. While these placements sometimes result in adoption, that is not necessarily the goal of Treatment Foster Care. It is designed to provide stability, support, and healing for children – and lead to permanent family connections, whether that is through adoption or return to the birth family or relatives.

EnCircle is always looking for additional foster parents who are willing to meet kids where they are, with staff supporting foster parents at every step of the journey. LGBTQ youth are overrepresented in foster care, meaning there is a critical need for foster parents who are open and understanding. LGBTQ adults bring lived experience navigating issues of identity and orientation, and as foster parents they can be an incredible source of support for a teenager who has experienced rejection and trauma.

If you would like to learn more about enCircle or what is involved in becoming a Treatment Foster Parent, please visit enCircleAll.org. You can also reach out directly to Program Manager Amy Barbour at .

Next time: Learn more about one enCircle Foster Parent’s experience supporting a teenager who is transgender and how that family is supported by enCircle’s staff.