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Dwayne Shepherd, of Montvale, grew up in a large family that included foster and adopted children. His parents, Calvin and Martha Shepherd, had two biological children—Dwayne was one of them—and five adopted children. They also took in foster children.
After Dwayne got married, he and his wife, Patti, were able to move into a four-bedroom house.
“We felt God had blessed us with that extra room,” said Shepherd. “We felt we should share it.”
Dwayne, like his father, is a pastor. Calvin Shepherd was pastor of what was at the time Walnut Grove Union Church. Dwayne is pastor of One Faith Fellowship in Montvale.
So far, Dwayne and Patti Shepherd have taken in 27 foster children and have adopted two of them, a brother and sister. They also have three biological children.
They take in mostly older children, which fills a great need. Gail Hernandez, who works for the Bedford County Department of Social Services, said that there is a shortage of foster parents willing to accept older children. There is especially a shortage of people who are willing to take in teens. The two that the Shepherds ended up adopting came to their home at the age of 11 and 14. However, they will take in children of any age. Once they took in five small children at one time.
“That was exciting,” Dwayne commented.
He said that all their children, biological and adopted, pitched in to help.
When they take in foster children, the Shepherds always take them in as a sibling group. Dwayne said that they know that those children have been through a lot and they don’t want to break them up.
“They aren’t puppies or kittens,” Patti commented.
Hernandez said that this fits the Department of Social Services philosophy. They don’t want to break up a sibling group as their siblings are all these children have left.
Dwayne said that the reward for doing this is making a difference in the children’s lives. He mentioned his adopted daughter, Danielle. She was the 14-year-old girl they adopted 10 years ago. She’s married now and is the children’s pastor at a church in Roanoke.
“I walked my adopted daughter down the aisle when she got married,” said Dwayne.
“Her husband even asked Dwayne if he could marry her,” commented Patti.
This came at Danielle’s suggestion. She insisted that he talk to her father.
Hernandez noted that being a foster parent can lead to adopting the child. They already know the child and his or her needs.
Most foster children, however, are not adopted. The goal of Social Services is to reunite the children with their biological parents. If that’s not possible, they try to place them with biological relatives. If that’s not possible, the children are available for adoption.
The Shepherds have also been happy to see children reunited with their biological families. He recalls one girl. She was living on the streets with her drug addict mother. Her father was gone, then, but he finally got his act together and got custody of his daughter. Sometime later, the Shepherds got a thank-you letter from the girl.
People who agree to be foster parents aren’t left alone. They get training before they take in any children. They have training available throughout the year. Hernandez is also available if the parents need her help.
“All they have to do is call,” she said. “I answer any time, day or night.”
Foster parents also have a choice. They can specify what ages they will accept and specify whether they would rather have boys or girls placed with them.
Most foster parents are couples, but Hernandez said that they have some single foster parents.
“I have one foster dad who adopted three boys,” she said. “They were all brothers.”
People who want to become foster parents have to submit fingerprints and undergo background checks. This goes for everybody living in the household who is over 18.
Hernandez also does a full home study that involves three visits to the house. Among other issues, she wants to make sure the house has enough space for the children and has working smoke detectors. She’s also looking for a fire escape plan.
The next foster parent training class begins on Feb. 29. It’s a 27-hour class that meets every week from 6 to 9 p.m. in the ground floor training room of the County Administration Building on Main Street in Bedford. For more information, contact Hernandez by calling her cell number (540) 875-8815.