Monday, 16 December 2019 19:48

Cascades employees donate presents for Richmond County foster children

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Cascades employees Brian King and David Sheppard carry presents out to a utility trailer. The gifts are for 50 Richmond County foster children. See a video at the bottom of this story. Cascades employees Brian King and David Sheppard carry presents out to a utility trailer. The gifts are for 50 Richmond County foster children. See a video at the bottom of this story. William R. Toler - Richmond Observer

ROCKINGHAM — Fifty children in foster care will have a happier Christmas, courtesy of the employees of Cascades Tissue Mill.

Hundreds of presents were transferred from a conference room at the plant to an equipment trailer and taken to the Richmond County Division of Social Services early Monday afternoon.

In addition to the wrapped gifts, the load also included 14 bicycles and three tricycles.

The employees set up an Angel Tree in the break room and picked an ornament that had a number coinciding with a sheet featuring a specific child’s gender, clothing size and wish list.

“Everyone was coming in and excited about it,” said Corey Wyand, who helped deliver the presents.

Over at the DSS office, the gifts were organized and stacked by their numbers.

In November, DSS had several activities in recognition of Adoption Awareness Month, including producing a documentary series titled with this year’s national theme: “Why Family Matters.”

The video featured interviews with those involved in the adoption and fostering process, including social workers, court personnel and families who have adopted children.

The documentary ran on the county’s community channel and can still be viewed on the channel’s website. (Click link to watch.)

DSS also held an art competition, with six schools participating.

Unbeknownst to social workers at time, overall winner Zoiee Wood, from the Ninth Grade Academy, is an adoptee.

“It was very interesting that it was really (her) perspective, where the majority of the people were just talking about why family matters … this youth really got the theme of why family matters for (her),” Smith said.

Her artwork was featured on a T-shirt and will be used for advertising throughout the year, Smith said. All of the artwork was on display in the DSS lobby.

The department also gave out T-shirts and bracelets at the Nov. 1 Richmond Senior High School home football game to raise awareness about adoption.

As of Nov. 25, there were 58 children in custody and four in the 18-21 program, according to Supervisor Theressa Smith. Three kids had been adopted in 2019.

Smith said has been at least a 28% increase in the number of foster children across the state since in 2017, with Richmond County seeing a 387% increase in the same time period.

The number of children in foster care two years ago was 16, with as many as 62 at one point this year.

Social workers say substance abuse is a contributing factor, primarily due to the opioid crisis and implementation of the STOP Act, of which Sen. Tom McInnis, R-Richmond, was a primary sponsor.

“It’s not just affecting the parent(s), but now it’s affecting the grandparent, the uncle, so we’re not able to place children with family now,” said David Richmond, child welfare supervisor.

He added that family members either aren’t willing to get involved because of burned bridges or because of their own substance abuse problems.

Smith said the goal is to try to place children with family members if at all possible, but “a lot of times, families aren’t willing to step up and do that.”

The other main reasons kids wind up in state custody are abuse (mental, physical and/or sexual) and neglect.

Many foster parents wind up adopting the children they foster, which can, in turn, lead to losing a foster home for future placements.

“We always need new foster parents,” Smith said. “When you’re talking about that many kids in custody, we don’t have that many places.”

Some are having to be placed with families in other counties.

New foster care classes started Dec. 5.

For more information, call the Division of Social Services or visit the pages on the county’s website.