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Regional council names McDowells as “Foster Parents of the Year” in Prince William County

Carly and Kristy McDowell decided to become foster parents a couple of years ago. Recently, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) named the McDowells as foster parents of the year in Prince William County.

Being named foster parents of the year requires commitment to the children and a willingness to be a part of a team that is focused on reuniting children with their families. 

“To be a foster parent, you have to be able to demonstrate what our values and missions are, meaning the #1 thing that all foster parents know is that we have to work with the families to reunify,” said Marcy Capers, senior human services caseworker with Prince William County Department of Social Services. “The foster parents have to be on board, and the McDowells have shown that they are definitely a big part of reunifying. They were on board with reunification right from the start. They engaged with the parent and supported her. They made themselves available. They worked with the department, in all aspects of the department, from the lawyers to the county attorney, to case workers, just everybody who is engaged with the family. They go above and beyond.”

The McDowells knew they had enough love to share with children, so they decided to foster an infant boy and his two-year-old brother. The move came with surprises. The McDowells were accustomed to living without children around.

“All of a sudden, our schedule is controlled by children,” said Carly McDowell, a Department of Defense management program analyst. “Someone’s diapers have to be changed. Someone has to be fed. Between the two of us, we had probably changed 10 diapers. It changed our whole life.”

Kristy McDowell, an adjunct professor at Northern Virginia Community College, said the changes were worth it.

“What’s in it for us is the ability to experience kids develop and grow and mature. We enjoy that. They’re so cute and cuddly and little,” Kristy said. “We’re trying to help them overcome the trauma they’ve experienced and trying to just flood them with love and hugs and everything to try to alleviate all the drama and trauma they’ve experienced. We’re just trying to provide them with a solid foundation that they can build from with caring with love.”

“There are so many kids out there that need loving homes, and we wanted to provide that because we didn’t have kids, couldn’t have kids. So, we figured why not extend our home and love, too,” Carly said.

The McDowells recently took in a little girl to add to their foster family.

Sharlene Govan, a Prince William County Department of Social Services case manager for children in foster care, who nominated the McDowells as foster parents of the year, said the McDowells rose to the occasion from the start. The McDowells made all the court appearances and doctors’ appointments required of them and worked with the daycare center and other team members.

“They were so natural in their new role in parenting these children. They did really well with getting to know the children’s needs. A lot of these children have a lot of delays and behaviors, and they took that on like they were natural experts.”

Carly said working with the social services team felt natural.

“I feel like they’re a great team of social workers. One of the things they teach you is that they’re a part of the team. The judge is part of the team. The foster parents, the social workers, we’re all one team working together, and we work together well,” Carly said.

“They’re very in tune. They’re accessible. Whenever you call, they’re there. They answer the call. They’re very supportive. Whatever you need, they come through,” Kristy said.

Capers said there are roughly 120 Prince William County foster children in group, residential and therapeutic homes due to neglect, abuse or abandonment that often stem from mental health and/or drug or alcohol abuse issues on the parts of their parents.

But there is something that people can do to help. The Department of Social Services always needs people to volunteer to foster children.

“We have an urgent need for foster parents that will take on older children,” Capers said.

“It takes an average of 120 days to become foster parents,” Capers said. “You really have to be committed, flexible, patient and engaging; and it’s got to be about the kids. The day they come into your house is the day that your life changes.”

People who are willing to serve as a foster parent should contact the Department of Social Services at 703-792-7500 and ask for the foster care coverage worker. Potential foster care parents can also email Capers at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

“If people are thinking about fostering, there are all kinds of ways to help the community,” Carly said. “I think it’s something people should look into.”

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