Roanoke City has the most kids in foster care across Virginia

It’s putting a big strain on social workers and taxpayers

ROANOKE, Va.There are more than 700 children who are ready for adoption in Virginia. They are ready to find a permanent and loving forever family. 10 News is profiling one child who needs a home every day during the hours of 6 a.m. and 5 p.m. in 30 Days of Hope. The children are of all ages and races and were put into foster care due to no fault of their own. 2022 marks the sixth year 10 News is doing this series.

Roanoke City has the highest number of kids in foster care across Virginia. It’s been that way for almost a year, with the numbers climbing. In September, Roanoke City had 5.4% of the total number of kids in care across the Commonwealth at 273 children.

“Our folks are just handling emergency after emergency,” said Sue Reese, the Family Services Manager for Roanoke City Department of Social Services.

Roanoke City has the most kids in foster care, despite our smaller population. At a population of about 100,000, Roanoke has nearly 300 kids in care. Compared to places like Fairfax County and Virginia Beach with populations four to 10 times the size, and one hundred fewer kids in foster care.

“We do have 277 children in foster care that is high for us,” said Reese.

It’s been that way since December. The Department of Social Services is the agency called on to step in when a child needs to be removed from a home.

“The last thing we want to do is take a child into care,” said Reese.

“No family is the same. No child is the same. But as part of that, it’s also very stressful as in you are determining where a child goes and if a child is safe at that place that you send them,” said Marlene Carlson, a CPS Investigator, who is seeing the uptick in calls first hand.

“It’s kind of nerve-wracking, showing up to some people’s houses of like, you know what are you walking into? What do you expect?” said Carlson. “If it’s the safety of a child, you have to figure out that day like can that child go home today to this family member. Do they need to go to another family member, just because there are problems at home at the time? So figuring that out is slightly stressful.”

It’s also putting a strain on the budget. The overall social services budget for this year is $26.5 million.

“It does put some strain on the department, and we are not alone in that. That’s a statewide issue as always, with every locality. Right now. We are we have and other places have an issue with recruitment and retention. Our caseloads are high here,” said Reese.

“I think everyone has seen an increase in their caseload. We don’t have enough people to you know, handle this amount of calls,” said Carlson.

Over time, costs have increased significantly. Roanoke City is just four months into the fiscal year, and they’ve already used more than 90% of the overtime budget.

It’s costing a lot more to drug test people. The budget is now more than $40,000, up from just about $8,000 last year. With the increase in Fentanyl use in our area, the average cost of a drug test to capture the information needed for a case decision has increased from approximately $150 to a potential $310.

Reese says they’re seeing the following:

  • Substance abuse touches more than 95% of the cases
  • Mental health is another issue — whether they’re untreated, underrated, or not even diagnosed
  • Domestic violence cases are also up

“I really couldn’t speculate on why Roanoke City might be higher in foster care because our workers do an excellent job trying to divert that from happening. But we do err on the side of safety when there’s ever a question of a child’s safety; we do err on the side of safety rather than not,” said Reese.

“I’ve seen an increase in my numbers,” said Whitney Caldwell, a Roanoke City DSS Senior Family Services Specialist. “It definitely is a job that can be very overwhelming and stressful.”

Caldwell works with families once children are in foster care and there aren’t enough foster homes.

“The need is great all over the state. We do need foster parents to help with this. We do need community support to help support these children and families. We’re working hard at that, and we’re thankful for any support that we get,” said Reese.

“With the increase in numbers, we’re filling up foster homes very quickly. There’s always a need for a foster family, and it’s always overwhelming when a child comes into care and we just have limited options for that child,” said Caldwell.

LocalityNumber of Kids in Foster Care
(September 2022)
Population from 2020 Census
Roanoke City273100,011
Fairfax County1981,150,309
Virginia Beach196459,470
Rockingham County15083,757
Henrico County117334,389
Albemarle County101112,395
Roanoke County
*does not include Salem

Roanoke has had the highest number of kids in foster care since December 2021. Before that, the city had the second-highest number of kids in care from January -November 2021, tying for the highest spot for one of those months. 10 News did not look at data prior to 2021.

Reese says more than 100 families are on the cusp of having the children removed but right now they’re getting in-home or prevention services to prevent that from happening. If those children were removed, it would add to the numbers.

“Those folks, they work with new mothers with babies, maybe sometimes substance-exposed infants. They work with truancy issues, they assess the needs of the families and make referrals and then monitor those referrals for counseling, substance abuse treatment. We are able to put in place intensive in-home services that work many, many hours of the week with the identified child or children and with the family as a whole,” said Reese.

Reese said Roanoke City also receives a lot of relief of custody petitions through the courts and tries to get the child and family into counseling, or even residential treatment if needed. The city can access funds through the Children’s Services Act and the child does not have to be in foster care. Most of these children are over the age of 13.

“Sometimes they [legal guardians] feel that they can no longer manage the child. They’re overwhelmed with the child’s needs or behavior and many times we can connect them with the right services, maybe mental health services or maybe even residential treatment and the child does not have to come into care to receive those services,” said Reese.

If you have questions about foster care/adoption, contact VDSS Division of Family Services Adoption Recruitment Coordinator, at

To see other 30 Days of Hope stories visit us here.

We also have a list of frequently asked questions about foster care and adoption including the qualifications, cost, and training required in this link.

About the Author:

You can see Jenna weekday mornings at the anchor desk on WSLS 10 Today from 5-7 a.m. She also leads our monthly Solutionaries Series, where we highlight the creative thinkers and doers working to make the world a better place.