March 17, 2017
Deb MatthewsDeborah G. MatthewsThis is an interview with Deborah Matthews, a local trust and estate attorney devoted to supporting foster children in our region, who recently established the Our Children Fund with the Community Foundation for Northern Virginia.

What is the Our Children Fund?

This fund is focused on the needs of foster children, which are immediate and present every single day. It will help provide foster care children access to “normalizing” items and experiences and to address their otherwise unmet medical, social, emotional, and educational needs. These children in the Fairfax County foster system are between the ages of birth and 17 years, and young adults between the ages of 18 and 21, if permanency (return to home, relative placement, or adoption) is not achieved. Some examples of what might be supported include fees for before or afterschool activities, tutors, field trips, camps, elective activities, sports-related fees, and dental and health services.

Why did you want to establish the Our Children Fund?

As a long time Northern Virginia resident, I have seen first-hand the ongoing immediate needs of children in our foster care system. I served as a foster parent for seven years, and became very aware of the limited resources available for foster children. No general fund such as this existed in Fairfax County. Creating the Our Children Fund in conjunction with the Community Foundation met many of my goals. The Community Foundation was able to help establish it quickly while also providing tremendous back office support so that I could have the joy of donating and helping these children without handling the administrative and tax responsibilities. I also want this fund to provide for foster children in perpetuity, and I know that in partnership with the Community Foundation, the Our Children Fund is assured to continue to provide direct help for foster children in Fairfax County.

Additionally, many foster parents use their own money and resources to help these children with ongoing needs related to everyday school and activities. As any parent can tell you it is not cheap to raise a child. There are continuous needs for school supplies, field trips, health-related costs, etc. Also, when I was a foster parent there was a year that the small state stipend foster parents receive did not receive the regular annual increase. The General Assembly had overlooked introducing a bill that year providing for the annual increase. I worked with Virginia Senator Janet Howell who introduced a bill the following year that tied the foster parent stipend to another automatic annual increase, so foster parents would not be overlooked again.

Why is it important to you to support the local community?

I believe strongly in, “To whom much is given, much is expected.” All of us have a responsibility to help and support one another, particularly children. These children are in foster care through no fault of their own – they are victims. Foster children become wards of the state and we are all responsible to do what we can to help them. Through donating to this fund we can help alleviate some of the expenses related to their immediate and daily needs. The foster care reimbursement rate in Virginia is one of the nations lowest, so when you consider that in combination with this being one of the most expensive areas to live in the country; it presents a additional challenges for foster families. The purpose of the fund is to provide financial assistance to normalize life experiences for children in the Fairfax County foster system.

What has the Our Children Fund been able to accomplish thus far?

The first distribution the Fund has completed is to provide computers and a printer to two foster children and two more children will soon receive their computers. One boy, 16, has had trouble completing his homework for the last year because his foster family did not have a computer or printer. Now he has his own and even if he changes foster homes, he will continue to have what he needs to get his homework done. We look forward to continued support for foster children, our children, through this fund.

How can people apply for a grant, and how can contributions be made?

Apply for a Grant