DePaul lends a helping hand

By Page H. Gifford

Chris Tompkins. Photos courtesy of Chris Tompkins.

Chris Tompkins, a recruiter for DePaul Community Resources, describes the private non-profit human services as a “social impact” organization because of the wide variety of positive ways in which they help impact the lives of the most vulnerable members of the communities they serve.

The agency serves families and individuals across Central and Southwest Virginia.

Their largest and best-known program is their Treatment Foster Care (TFC) program.

“In our TFC program, we recruit, train, and approve new families that can open their hearts and homes to children in need of a safe and loving home environment. We have several programs and services though that work to help other vulnerable populations across the Commonwealth of Virginia,” said Tompkins. The programs include sponsored residential placements for individuals with developmental disabilities, group home and day support services, adoption services for children in the foster care system, independent living services for teens aging out of foster care, and community based services that offer support including supervised visitations and outpatient counseling, as well as other community outreach programs.

“At their core though, each of these services is intended to help provide hope and belonging to those whom the work is impacting, and those who need it most, which is why our agency prides itself on our vision of “Opening Doors to Hope and Belonging.”

DePaul as an independent helper. State and local social services in some sectors may not always be able to provide a community with all the necessary resources it needs. Though DePaul is a private entity, they are contracted to provide case management services by local DSS  agencies. They work with them to accept or take referrals including those from Fluvanna County. However, the foster homes they open and license have to be about one hour, or close to a 60-mile radius, from each of their locations that houses their TFC program staff.

Tompkins explained that when they take a referral from a DSS agency for a child in need of placement, they check for an appropriate match for that child with one of their foster families, then plan and coordinate placement with them.  As a contract provider with DSS, DePaul not only serves by providing the case management services, but it also provides  direct client support to the child or children placed in its foster homes, to the foster families, and the biological families involved in any of the cases they are supporting.

The number of children needing homes in Virginia is staggering: a little over 5,000 need foster care at any given time. Currently, there are 2,206 children in foster care just in the Central and Piedmont regions.

“A good way of quantifying the local need is that it’s not unusual for our Charlottesville office to receive a dozen or a couple of dozen referrals in a given month, and while it depends on the individual referrals we receive in a given month, at times we may only have appropriate matches for a half a dozen or fewer of the children referred to our local Charlottesville office,” said Tompkins. “For a prospective foster family in Fluvanna that we approve, any one of those referrals could be a potential match and an opportunity to serve that child (or children if it’s a sibling group). The greatest needs that we see are for foster families that are willing to open their homes and hearts to working with teenagers in need of a placement and can accept sibling groups.”

The coronavirus has been challenging for Tompkins and other staff members when their work requires a uniquely personalized approach to helping each child and family overcome the obstacles they face as a result of the trauma they’ve experienced.

“I would say that the same hardships most organizations are facing when it comes to how remote work and social distancing impact collaborative and face-to-face elements of our work has been the biggest challenge.”

No one expected the coronavirus to put a hold on everyone’s lives including families and children in need of support. Tompkins recognizes the unique circumstances and said they have adapted to the new normal but regardless of the pandemic’s influence the work they do is essential and must continue. They have implemented policies and procedures to protect everyone involved. They have utilized remote work where possible for staff and implemented appropriate CDC recommended safety measures and hygiene practices.

“I’m happy to share that at this time, we can complete an entire home study process for new and prospective foster families and accept new placements into our program while adhering to the strict safety guidelines we’ve created. We anticipate the COVID-19 pandemic will lead to a significant increase in the need for new foster families and now is the time for families interested in getting involved to start the process and help our agency make a difference in the lives of foster children that we anticipate will increase in need before this pandemic is over.”

While their clients are experiencing many of the same hardships everyone is facing during this pandemic, he said that while working in this field he has witnessed and been inspired by the unusual and amazing resilience that they possess. “They may not have as many of the same supports in life as others do, or it can be hard to focus on healing from their trauma while simultaneously navigating other daily challenges, let alone the same crisis we all are facing during this global pandemic.”

He is grateful to community members who have reached out and donated PPE and other basic supplies to our young adults in its independent living program. To relieve boredom, families have donated art supplies and other materials to help foster families with entertaining and supporting their foster child’s home school needs, or even simply writing and offering notes of encouragement to children and foster families to let them know people are thinking about them during this difficult time.

Tompkins said that DePaul is a good model for how human services should be delivered to those who need it. On their website is a unique and creative way for people to get involved by sharing ideas. It’s called “The Garage.” The idea behind this revolutionary concept is that the garage is a place to create, experiment, tinker, play, and build. It encourages community involvement on all levels, generating new ways of thinking. By engaging community members, DePaul becomes part of the solution when issues can be viewed with fresh eyes.

Society has evolved through modernization and progress but the breakdown of the family unit as we knew it has contributed to an overburdened system that needs a new perspective and the support social service models like DePaul provide. Tompkins sees this as an innovative way to share ideas and meet the needs of those who need assistance. Visit the garage at to learn more about how the garage works.

Tompkins feels that talking with others in their community and on social media about DePaul and the work they do is the best way to spread community awareness about the foster care system and services for individuals with developmental disabilities. He believes it is the key to solving problems and meeting the needs within the foster care system and an excellent way to also help create positive change by helping lend a voice to this important cause.

“You have to first be able to define it, and opportunities like this are vitally important to our efforts to help define to our communities why there is such a need for more foster families, and more sponsored residential providers to help us in our efforts to meet the needs of these vulnerable populations that we serve so that hopefully we can ensure a child or individual with developmental disabilities never has to go without experiencing a sense of hope and belonging.”

Anyone interested in learning more about becoming a foster parent or sponsored residential provider, should contact Chris Tompkins at 434-977-9847 ext. 3509, or e-mail him at, or visit online at to learn more.

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