This story was updated on July 7 at 11 a.m.
For Shannell Parker, getting her family anywhere is a logistical nightmare…
The 38-year-old from Springfield has taken her four young nieces and nephews into her home.
When she adds her husband and two children into the mix, the family of eight cannot cram into their only car, a five-seat sport utility vehicle.
Parker wants to buy a van that will fit their whole clan. Such a van would allow her to realize dreams both big - a trip to the beach, so her nieces and nephews can see the ocean - and small - a hassle-free trip to the grocery store.
“Right now, when we go somewhere, we have to make a choice: Who stays and who goes?” Parker said.
Yet those dreams are on hold indefinitely, crumbling under the lack of support families such as Parker’s receive from the state government.
“There’s not much out there for us,” Parker said. “I feel like every door we’ve tried to open is shut.”
Parker’s family is considered a kinship family, a family in which one relative takes custody of another relative’s children. In many cases, kinship families receive little in the way of support from the state, according to Cate Newbanks. Newbanks is the executive director of FACES for Virginia Families, a nonprofit that works with the state department of social services to provide resources for adoptive, foster care and kinship families.
Parker had some idea of the challenges facing kinship families. She took custody of her sister’s daughter Kaylei six years ago, and had gone through the necessary court proceedings and bureaucratic red tape.
However, Parker said she did not realize the true burden kinship families could face, though, until last August, when she took Kaylei’s three younger siblings away from an abusive home situation.
“We didn’t think about anything but the well-being of these kids,” Parker said. “That was our main focus.”
Even after receiving custody of the children, Parker is still working to receive support for her two nephews, Stephen and Josiah. The family receives a total monthly stipend of $332 for her two nieces, Kaylei and her younger sister Yazmin.
The meager sum does not make up for Parker’s lost wages. She quit her job at a daycare facility last October to take care of her nieces and nephews full-time.
“In Virginia, as in many states, we don’t offer a lot of support to these families that are really just trying to do the right thing,” Newbanks said. “So for families with limited income, they end up with limited resources.”
So as well as a full-time caregiver to her nieces and nephews, Parker decided to make herself an expert navigator of the social services support channels.
“If you don’t keep asking and asking, you won’t get anywhere,” Parker said. “You need to knock on every door.”
When the family ran out of options at state and county agencies, she turned to the community to help with more creative solutions.
Her family established a web of support. Her husband’s coworkers at the Springfield Whole Foods Market put together a diaper drive. Family and friends brought hand-me-down clothes. Her nephew Stephen’s Fairfax County preschool teacher provided a Spider-Man bedspread for the superhero-crazy 4-year-old.
Even with the support, though, one big piece - transportation - still needed to be addressed. Parker and Karen Spradlin, a social worker with the Fairfax County school system, turned to FACES for ideas.
Newbanks suggested the family turn from their community to a broader Web: the Internet.
“It’s just community helping community, but now our community is larger with social media,” Newbanks said. “It’s just a matter of tapping all those resources and getting it to those in need.
With the help of Spradlin and Newbanks, Parker started an online fundraiser through the website GoFundMe.
The fundraising site went up on May 1. In two months, the family has collected $1,200 toward a $12,000 goal.
Spradlin hopes the fundraising will pick up but is not optimistic.
“Frankly, I think this is a desperate attempt,” Spradlin said. “It’s unfortunate that the state can’t help this family meet their needs. Now this is the last straw.”
Parker, though, says she remains upbeat by focusing on each individual donation.
“When people donate, I get teary-eyed,” Parker said. “It can be hard to believe there’s actually people out there willing to help others until you see it for yourself.”
The original version of this story did not include a link to GoFundMe’s fundraising website.