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Richard Valenza

Founder and CEO, RaiseAChild, Santa Rosa, California


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Stephen Voss

There are more than 400,000 children in foster care in the United States. As a single gay man who had always dreamed of having a child, applying to be a foster parent seemed a natural next step. But when I did so 18 years ago, there was an undercurrent of discouragement. There was little diversity among applicants when it came to race, gender or sexual orientation, and many dropped out. That is why I created RaiseAChild 11 years ago — to recruit LGBTQ prospective foster and adoptive parents. Since our organization began, we have provided support to more than 5,000 families who have fostered or adopted nearly 10,000 children and youth in foster care. ​​​

The problem I’m trying to solve

​The foster care crisis continues to grow in the United States. The number of children in foster care continues to rise, while there is a shortage of foster parents to take care of them. The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened this problem, as a whole generation of foster parents now feel unsafe to take kids into their home because of their age and health. In Los Angeles County alone, over 37,000 children languish in the foster care system due to a shortage of homes. ​​

The moment that sparked my passion

​Almost 20 years ago, I finally got up the nerve to register for foster parent training orientation. Halfway through the class, a woman blurted out during discussion that she would kick out a foster child who told her they were gay. I sat there with a smile on my face, waiting for the instructors to explain to her that that was not in the boy’s best interests. Instead, they turned red in the face and moved on. That’s when I vowed to myself that not only would I become a foster parent, but I would also do what I could to make this challenging process easier for others, especially LGBTQ individuals.​​

What I wish other people knew

​There are unfortunately so many misconceptions of children in foster care. These kids aren’t put there because of what they’ve done, but because of what’s been done to them. They need understanding and nurturing.​

​The human spirit is very resilient. These kids will bounce back if they are given a sense of security and love. This is particularly true for kids who are LGBTQ. These children and teens typically stay in group homes longer than others and have worse outcomes. But every child in foster care deserves a permanent loving home.​​

Advice to others who want to make a difference

​Follow your passion and see what you can do to change things and make them better. Yes, it’s not easy to run a nonprofit. You are always on a bended knee asking for financial support to keep your cause going. But there are many government agencies that look to community partners to help them do the work they have trouble doing. It is extremely hard for state agencies, for example, to have the time to recruit foster parents.​

​That is where RaiseAChild comes in. We help reach out to every capable good foster parent and welcome them into this process so that we have better opportunities to match children in homes that are comfortable with them. ​

​​​Why my approach is unique

​There is no other U.S. organization that competes with RaiseAChild. We are the nationwide leader in the recruitment and support of LGBTQ foster parents. We also provide ongoing mentorship and guidance directly to foster and adoptive parents, unlike other organizations. This normally falls under the responsibility of regional foster agencies, but they do not have the resources to meet this need. ​

​Everyone who works at RaiseAChild is or has been a foster or foster-to-adopt parent. We bring to the table our own experience, challenges, knowledge and expertise. Personally, I’m the proud father of two children adopted through the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services. RAC’s motto of “Let love define family” has helped to establish a mantra of equality and acceptance for all children and family structures. It is my profound honor to do this work, and it is a source of personal pride and accomplishment. ​​

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