Senator Grassley’s Speech on the Senate Floor Highlights CCAI Foster Youth Intern

Last night, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) gave a floor speech highlighting Amnoni Myers, a member of CCAI’s 2014 Foster Youth Intern Class, and her experience in the United States foster care system. In the blog below, Amnoni tells her story—the adversity she faced in the system and her experiences this summer on Capitol Hill. We are so proud of you, Amnoni!

Senator Chuck Grassley with Amnoni Myers

My Story

Growing up in the Department of Children and Families (DCF) was not an easy experience. I became a ward of the state the day I was born, addicted to drugs and abandoned in the hospital as a result of my parents’ involvement with drugs, criminal activity and poverty. My Great Aunt took my two siblings and me in and cared for us for ten years. Not having the opportunity to be raised by my biological parents was extremely difficult because I did not have a natural support system to aid me in my success. I encountered trauma at a very young age resulting from various types of abuse and neglect. At the age of ten, I was reunified with my mother but after a short two years, my mother voluntarily returned my siblings and me back to the state without notice. Because incidents of abuse and neglect persisted, DCF took permanent custody of us. At the age of 12, I was placed in non-relative foster homes, where I then continuously moved around until the age of 18. Growing up with so many challenges made me unable to see how my life would eventually be used for good.

My Experience as a Foster Youth Intern

I feel very fortunate that despite the challenges I had to overcome, I was able to attend college and recently graduate with a degree in Social Work and Sociology. Having a college education gives me more opportunities to advocate and give a voice to those without one. In addition to my degree, my life experiences also prepared me for my time as a CCAI Foster Youth Intern this summer. When I applied for the Foster Youth Internship, I was initially afraid of the possibility of opening up and facing my past, but I quickly recognized that this opportunity would be a life-giving experience as I would finally have the chance to give voice and perspective to the challenges that foster youth face. My time on Capitol Hill has been amazing thus far—I have been able grow both personally and professionally. Although I was anxious about whether I was equipped to handle the workload of a Congressional Internship, being here gives me the chance to develop a healthier sense of myself. CCAI’s staff challenge me to reach my maximum potential by putting in my best effort as I write my policy recommendations for Congress and work hard to achieve maximum results while I’m here in the program.

Interning with Senator Grassley

Interning for Senator Chuck Grassley also provides me with an opportunity to develop professionally. The Senator provided a platform for me to share my unique experiences in a way that brings firsthand perspective to the job. I have been able to work on special projects specifically related to federal child welfare policy because the Senator is a leader of the Foster Care Caucus and my perspective is valued in the office because of my journey in the foster care system. My supervisor encourages me to not only share my perspective with her, but also with the other interns in the office. The skills I am learning through CCAI and in the Senator’s office are very transferable, and are preparing me for the next season of my life.

My Future

After my summer here with CCAI, I will participate in a fellowship with Bayshore Christian Ministries in East Palo Alto, California, working in community development and serving underprivileged youth and their families. My time here on Capitol Hill has prepared me for this, because I am now able to see how policy directly affects lives. I faced many challenges growing up, and until working in the Senate I was unable to see how Members of Congress advocated for people. But since working with Senator Grassley, I can now see and appreciate all the hard work Members of Congress do. My experience here with CCAI and Senator Grassley give me confidence to continue my advocacy efforts in California. I hope to return to Capitol Hill in the near future because I would like to continue to invest in others in the same way CCAI invests in me!

To read the full transcript of Senator Grassley’s speech, click here. To watch the floor speech, click here.

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CCAI Releases 2013 Annual Report

Annual Report

The Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI) is proud to announce the release of our 2013 Annual Report. As we reflect on 2013, we are proud to highlight CCAI’s involvement in raising awareness of the millions of children in our nation and around the world without a loving family. From hosting a delegation of Guatemalan judges and child welfare professionals on a three city tour of the United States to organizing Congressional briefings and honoring the inspiring stories of adoption and family through our 15th annual Angels in Adoption Program, we believe we accomplished our mission to break down the barriers which prevent these children from realizing their basic right to a family. We hope you enjoy this brief review of all that last year entailed for CCAI!

To read CCAI’s 2013 Annual Report click HERE!

To make a donation in support of CCAI’s work or learn more about our partnership opportunities, click here or contact info@ccainstitute.org.

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Sharing the Perspective of Prospective Adoptive Parents with Disabilities

Last week, the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute was honored to co-host a policy briefing with the Bipartisan Disabilities Caucus, National Council on Disability, Child Welfare League of America, National Association of Social Workers, and the American Psychological Association.

The briefing focused on adults with disabilities as a recruitment resource for children in need of families, and highlighted Chapter 10 – The Adoption Law System of the recent report by the National Council on Disability (NCD) titled “Rocking the Cradle: Ensuring the Rights of Parents with Disabilities and Their Children”. The report details how prospective parents with disabilities are often denied the opportunity to open their hearts and homes to children who desperately need them.

One of the panelists, Colleen Gioffreda, has been the Little People of America’s Adoption Coordinator for the past ten years, and has helped facilitate the adoptions of over 200 children with dwarfism.  She created the Little People of America (LPA) Adoption website, as well as the LPA Adoption Facebook page which educates potential parents about adoption in general, children with dwarfism who are currently available for adoption, and what resources are out there to help make an adoption possible.

Colleen’s testimony at the briefing was quite compelling, so we want to share it with you here:

Good morning,

My name is Colleen Gioffreda, and I am the National Adoption Coordinator for Little People of America, or LPA.  LPA is a nonprofit organization that provides support and information to people of short stature and their families. We have more than 6,000 members, and are the world’s largest organization for people with dwarfism and their families. Founded in 1957, LPA strives to offer the support and resources necessary to empower all people with dwarfism to reach their full potential.

The LPA has had an adoption coordinator position since 1961.  Adoption has long been a significant part of LPA’s culture.  Within my generation of LPA, approximately 40 percent of the children who have parents with dwarfism have been adopted.  Compared to the approximate rate of 2.5 percent of all US children adopted, (http://www.pbs.org/pov/offandrunning/adoption_fact_sheet.php) 40% is a much higher portion of adoption children within my generation of LPA.

My personal story is that I kind of fell into adoption after getting a phone call one day that a little girl with achondroplasia needed a family – were we interested?  My husband and I had not considered adoption at that point in our lives – we frankly thought that we couldn’t afford it yet.  But, it was meant to be, and we adopted our now 12 year old daughter, who is amazingly smart and compassionate and who cannot wait to be a teenager, although her parents certainly can.  I ended up helping out the adoption coordinator for LPA a few months later, and then eventually took over the position around ten years ago.

There are many reasons why people within LPA want to adopt.   One reason is that it is difficult for some people with dwarfism to carry a pregnancy, because of spinal stenosis or other health issues.  Another reason is that average stature parents decide to adopt a sibling for their child with dwarfism so that they may grow up together and have similar experiences.  Other adoptive parents make a connection through our adoption website with a particular child and feel that they are destined to be a part of their family.  The main theme that I see, however, is that people with dwarfism are proud of who they are, and want to share their positive lives with their children – adoptive and biological.

Regarding domestic adoptions, I have been involved with several adoptions where the parents with dwarfism met challenges along the way.  Allison and Tom, from Georgia, were interested in adopting their 4th child, and were on my “Waiting Parents” list.  I received a call from a foster care agency in Denver, who had a little boy with Spondyloepiphyseal Dysplasia (or SED), who also had a tracheostomy.  I talked at length several times to the social worker, who was enthusiastic about hearing about the couple, and who expressed that she thought they were a great match.   She changed her mind a few days later, after discussing the types of dwarfism they had, and told them that they were not going to be a match after all.  She called me and told me that she didn’t think that they could “handle” a child with a tracheostomy – since they were so short, they wouldn’t be able to help him with his equipment.  I do not believe she thought that I had the same type of dwarfism that they had.  They appealed, and then appealed again, but lost both times because we were told the foster mother apparently wanted to adopt him after all.  This was years ago, and I believe that he never was adopted by his foster mother.

Adopting foster children has been impossible for LPA members, so far.  We have had a total of 12 foster children that had families through LPA, but none were adopted. Not for not trying several times, though.  One boy, Jonathan, was from Texas.  He was 15 when Mike and Kim began to attempt to adopt him.  He aged out of the system – they attempted to adopt him for 2 ½ years, but he never got out of foster care.  We don’t know if it was because Mike and Kim had dwarfism, or if it was because Jonathan had numerous social workers that never seemed to talk to each other.  Mike and Kim were extremely disappointed, and then turned to International adoption, where they eventually adopted 3 additional children, making their family complete at five children all through adoption.

Rachel and Joseph are a couple who live in North Carolina, who have been on my waiting parent list for many years.  They are licensed as foster parents, and have told the agencies that they will take any type of child with any type of special need.  They have fostered a child only once, and he was placed back with his birth parent soon after they began to foster him.  They have been waiting for 17 years to adopt a child.  17 years.  You can imagine the frustration that they have experienced – they have done everything that they have needed to do for their paperwork, and yet they still wait.  Rachel has an undiagnosed type of dwarfism and Joseph is average stature.

LPA has found many more children adopted through International adoption than through domestic adoption, but even that has proven to be difficult at times.  LPA has had adoptive children through over 20 different countries – the highest numbers of children who are adopted internationally come from China, Korea, the Ukraine, Bulgaria, and Russia, previously.  China has a special needs program which includes dwarfism.  Chinese children with dwarfism available for adoption are typically abandoned between 6 – 12 months, when the diagnosis of dwarfism becomes apparent.

Although China has strict eligibility requirements to adopt, we have found very good agencies that have been able to work around China’s requirements, just as long as the parent’s disability matches the child’s disability.  In other words, a person with achondroplasia, like me, would be able to adopt a child with achondroplasia, but not a child with Downs Syndrome.  The agencies that have helped us ensure that the parent’s disability matches the child’s disability on paper – for example, even if the child really has achondroplasia, her paperwork may say that she has Rickets, or dropsiness of foot ( a diagnosis I’ve seen in a child’s file before) or something else.  The parent will have that diagnosis too – perhaps in parentheses next to their true diagnosis.  We have also helped to get around the BMI requirement by using BMI curves specific for people with dwarfism, instead of using standard curves.

We have come across agencies that are not willing to fight these small battles.  Sharon and Joseph, who had paid about $10,000 to an agency to adopt their daughter Ying, were told that China denied them to adopt her.  The agency refused to appeal, saying that China’s rule was the rule, and that they should not pursue another child through China.  Instead, Sharon and Joseph waited until their daughter was not exclusively represented by that agency, and found her again through another agency, which had no issues in explaining the situation to the CCCWA. (China’s child protection agency in charge of adoption).  Ying has now been with her parents for 3 ½ years, a very happy and very expressive 9 year old American girl.

Another couple, Matthew and Charlotte, who adopted from China 2 years ago, had a similar experience with an agency, and were told that it looked like they wouldn’t be able to adopt from China after all, after spending thousands of dollars toward adopting their daughter.  They went to a different agency, and with some ingenuity, sent pictures to China from the chest up, because they were fearful that china would reject them due to Matthew’s very small stature.  Their daughter Lillian is a beautiful, happy little girl who is thriving in school.  In China, she most likely would not have had the opportunity to go to school, due to her dwarfism.  In the United States, she can become a doctor, or a lawyer, or anything else she chooses.

In China as well as other countries, sometimes discrimination can be a problem, but also, just getting around the country itself can be the challenge.  We have many members in LPA with mobility issues, and being able to navigate inaccessible sidewalks and streets proves to almost be impossible.  Notice I said almost.  Still, our members overcome these challenges in order to bring their children home.  International adoption, with all its challenges, is still easier in the long run than adopting children out of foster care.  And I really hope this changes someday.

Although we have faced many challenges with adoption in our community, adoption is still a huge part of our culture.  In the past ten years, we have helped approximately 200 children with dwarfism find their families.  LPA is proud of our community and view raising children with dwarfism as an amazing and wonderful privilege and experience.  I’m in the middle of raising four children, all with dwarfism, and I wouldn’t want my life any other way.  Except maybe the amount of laundry.

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Meet the 2014 Foster Youth Interns!

By Ashleigh Davenport; 2014 FYI Resident Assistant

CCAI is excited to welcome the 2014 Foster Youth Interns (FYI’s) to Washington, D.C. to begin their summer interning on Capitol Hill.  This internship provides individuals who have spent a significant amount of time in the United States foster care system with the opportunity to intern in a United States Congressional office. They will not only share their experiences in foster care, but influence public policy through a report geared toward the improvement of the foster care system.

I remember being in their shoes last year as the excitement of a summer working on Capitol Hill began to build.  Participating in the 2013 Foster Youth Internship program and interning in the office of Senator John Boozman (R-AR) gave me direction in what I wanted to do with my law degree, provided life-long friendships, and gave me a place to tell my story.  This year, I have returned to CCAI and Capitol Hill to help the 2014 class receive everything they can from this amazing opportunity.

As this year’s FYI Resident Assistant, I would like to take a few moments of your time to introduce you to the new interns.  They are a wonderful group of interns that have overcome many challenges in order to make a difference for future generations of foster youth.  Let me tell you all a little bit about our 12 FYI’s:

CCAI 2014 Foster Youth Interns

Kaylia Ervin – Big Rapids, Michigan                                                                                                     Kaylia comes to us from Ferris State University where she studies Criminal Justice and Psychology.  She is passionate about protecting children from the overuse of psychotropic medication and will be interning in the office of Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).

Dominique Freeman – Hyattsville, Maryland                                                                           Dominique currently attends Howard University where she is studying Psychology and Political Science.  Dominique plans to become a child psychologist for foster youth, and will be interning in the office of Representative Karen Bass (D-CA).

Darrah Hall – Memphis, Tennessee                                                                                                     Darrah is celebrating her graduation from the University of Memphis where she obtained a degree in both Anthropology and African-American Studies. Darrah will be interning in the Senate Majority Finance Committee this summer.

Kellie Henderson – Phillipsburg, Kansas                                                                                            Kellie received her Masters in Social Work from the University of Kansas in May.  She is passionate about making sure foster youth have financial resources and mentorship as they age out and decide to pursue higher education.  Kellie will be interning in the Senate Minority Finance Committee.

Jane Krienke – Kirksville, Missouri                                                                                                         Jane comes to us with a degree in Communication and Biology with a minor in Spanish from Truman State University.  With a passion for journalism and medicine, Jane will be interning in the office of Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO).

Samuel Leiva – Alexandria, Virginia                                                                                                        Sam attends Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut where he studies American Studies and English.  He is interested in immigration policy, and the effect it has on the foster system. He will be interning in the office of Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).

Wilondja Muyoma – Spokane, Washington                                                                                       Wilo was placed in a foster family in Seattle after being separated from his parents in The Congo.  He currently attends Whitworth University where he studies Economics and Politics with a minor in Computer Science. Wilo will be joining the office of Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) for the summer.

Amnoni Myers – Boston, Massachusetts                                                                                       Amnoni joins us from Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts where she recently graduated with a double major in Social Work and Sociology.  Amnoni is passionate about breaking the cycle of poverty, and will be interning in the office of Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA).

Robert (Tony) Parsons – Redford, Michigan                                                                                   Tony is a junior at Michigan State University studying Political Science and Pre-Law.  Tony enjoys singing and theater, and is interested in increasing stability and support for foster and adoptive families.  Tony will be working in the House Majority Ways and Means Committee.

Ta’Kijah (Ty) Randolph – Long Beach, California                                                                             Ty is a senior at California State University Long Beach where she is majoring in Communication and minoring in African Studies.  Ty is interested in the Independent Living Program and Chafee Grant and will be interning in the House Minority Committee on Energy and Commerce.

Emily Satifka – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania                                                                                      Emily joins us from Temple University in Philadelphia where she studies Political Science and Spanish.  In addition to her studies at Temple, she has a certificate in International Teaching English as a Foreign Language Training and teaches ESL classes to older immigrants.  Emily is interning in the office of Senator Bob Casey (D-PA).

Craig Stuart – Mesa, Arizona                                                                                                                       Craig currently attends Arizona State University where he studies Communications and Business.  He is passionate about finding ways to reunify the family by providing more resources to families that are facing hardship.  Craig will be interning in the office of Representative Trent Franks (R-AZ).

Welcome to Capitol Hill FYI Class of 2014! We have been eagerly awaiting your arrival and are so excited that you are finally here. This city stole my heart, and I know you will enjoy all of the opportunities that are available to you here. We look forward to celebrating your accomplishments this summer!

 

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Wanted (and Needed): Home Sweet Home, At Any Age

As CCAI continues to celebrate National Foster Care Month and highlight the stories of older youth in foster care awaiting adoptive families, we are honored to share the story of one adoption professional who also bears the title of adoptive mom: Susan Stockham. 

DerricksAdoptionDayFamilybytheBay

Susan and adoptive son, Derrick, and their family.

  As an adoption professional, I have had the privilege of representing clients in over 2,500 adoptions.  While the majority has been newborns, the ones that have really grabbed my heart are the older children and adults.  My oldest adoptee was almost 60. There is no age limit on who can be adopted. The desire to be a part of a family does not extinguish with age. The tears that shed at these final hearings are often sweeter knowing these families are created by mutual choice, as older adoptees must consent to their adoption.

 Since 2012, approximately 23,000 kids age out of foster care each year without a permanent home, without family, and without a dependable adult to rely on for guidance and assistance. Many have not completed their high school education. Few complete college. They are at higher risks for homelessness, joblessness, incarceration, depression, and suicide. They are victimized physically, financially and many by identity theft before they even reach the age of 18. Many embark on adulthood with no one whom they can rely on. Many still want and need a family and a place to call home.

 For almost ten years we have opened our hearts and our home to a number of these kids. Some have stayed only a few weeks or months, some for many years. Our walls are full of photos of our ‘extended family’. But five years ago one very special young man came into our lives and asked us if we would adopt him. “You are already a part of our family,” I said. “But I want to make it legal. Permanent,” he replied. So we did. On our adoption day we decorated our car with “It’s a boy” stickers and drove to the court.  When the Judge asked my son why he wanted to be adopted, he responded, “You never know what a difference you make in someone else’s life. I am thankful that my Mom touched mine and took her time to invest in me.  As a result of her love and the love of my family, the pain of my years in foster care is beginning to be erased.  I want to be an advocate like her and let others know that someone believes enough in them, and to know that they are not defined by their past, but only by their dreams of the kind of person they want to be.”

 At 11:30 AM, on a beautiful sunny Friday, joined by fifty or more of our family and friends, the Judge legally pronounced us a family.  Our tears of joy were shared by everyone present. We celebrated for  three days so that those who could not make it to the hearing could still be a part of our becoming a family.

Derrick

Derrick on his adoption day.

 Our relationship has deepened over the years. My son has stretched us as much as we have him. In becoming a part of our family he has seen that being committed to one another does not mean that families have to be perfect, or always agree. Putting down permanent roots has given him the courage to spread his wings. When he first moved out of state, both homesick and overwhelmed, he called and said, “I can’t do this, I want to come home.”  After reassuring him that he could always move back home, we talked through the problems and by morning he was resolved to stay and conquer his fears. It has been a privilege to watch him grow into the confident man he has become. He is now working on his Ph.D. in public advocacy in order to be a voice for those in care, fighting to increase their chances of becoming successful adults.  He encourages everyone to adopt older kids, in or out of care saying, “When you adopt an older child at least you know what you are getting.”  But, that is one of those areas where we may not agree.  We never knew on the day he chose us just how much more joy he would bring into our lives.  This summer we will again be expanding our family by adopting one more young adult.  What will you be doing to increase the success for our kids aging out of care?  My sons and I encourage you to open your heart and your home to become a mentor or family to just one more.

Hear more voices of those who have aged out. 

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May 2014: Memorial Day & National Foster Care Month

NFCM2014

Every year in May, during the holiday weekend as the nation celebrates Memorial Day and remembers those who died in our nation’s service, I call my grandmother to wish her a Happy Memorial Day. While she did not serve personally, her brothers and husband did. We often talk about her brother Ralph who died at the age of 19 as he served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. His ship, the USS Indianapolis, was torpedoed and sunk by a Japanese submarine in the Pacific Ocean on July 30, 1945–just two weeks before the nation celebrated “Victory over Japan” on August 15. My grandmother has shared with me how her family was still mourning the very recent loss of her brother as the rest of nation cheered that day. I call my grandmother every Memorial Day in part because I can–she is the matriarch of my father’s family and I enjoy talking to her. But I also call because her story is my story through our shared family history, and I want her to know that someone remembers her brother’s—and by extension her family’s—sacrifice.

In the world of child advocacy, May is also when we celebrate National Foster Care Month. Originally designated by the Children’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 20 years ago, National Foster Care Month (NFCM) provides an annual opportunity to recognize the approximately 400,000 children and youth living in foster care, as well as their foster parents, child-welfare workers, advocates and mentors. It also continues to bring attention to the many challenges faced by children and youth in foster care. Although foster care is intended to be temporary, children and youth remain in the system for an average of two years, and more than 23,400 youth age out of foster care each year without reunification or adoption.

At CCAI, we are keenly aware of the heart cries of these children to be part of a safe, loving and forever family—and this May we are focused on raising awareness about the challenges that older children and youth face in finding their forever families. Did you know that of the 101,666 children available for adoption out of foster care in FY 2012, only 52,039 were adopted? And sadly, for children age nine or older, who make up 48% of the total number of children in foster care, only 25% (13,184) from this age group were adopted (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2013). We know that without the security and support of a family, those who age out of foster care struggle to obtain housing, insurance, higher education and employment. We also know that all too often laws and policies create barriers that make it difficult for children to find their forever families, and thus CCAI’s mission is to identify any such barriers and support policymakers as they remedy them.

President Obama expressed his support for National Foster Care Month in an official Presidential Proclamation; both the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives registered their support through Resolutions. Add your voice to theirs! This May, we invite you to consider ways you might become more involved in the lives of children and youth in foster care – because every single child deserves the opportunity to call a grandparent of their very own on Memorial Day and learn parts of our nation’s history through a special connection with someone who lived it.

Becky Weichhand, Director of Policy, CCAI

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Making Unadoptable Unacceptable

CCAI is founded upon the ideal that every child in the world both needs and deserves a safe, loving and permanent family. And we exist to identify the legal and policy barriers that prevent children from realizing this basic right. As we continue to celebrate National Foster Care month, it is important to remember that foster care is not meant to be a permanent solution for children. Children need families and yet of the 101,666 children available for adoption out of foster care in FY 2012, only 52,039 were adopted. Even more concerning, children age nine or older, while accounting for 48 percent of the total number of children in foster care, accounted for only 25 percent (13,184) of these adoptions (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2013).

We are not the only ones who believe that there is no such thing as an unadoptable child.  Our friends and partners at the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption not only advance this message every day, they practice what they preach.  In celebration of National Foster Care Month, CCAI is excited to share the perspective of a social worker who has successfully recruited adoptive families for those children the foster care system said could not be adopted.  In his five years as a Wendy’s Wonderful Kids Recruiter in Wyoming, Bryan Cook has been instrumental in helping many kids find permanent homes.  Below he speaks of the tools he has on hand, as well as some of the challenges he faces in his daily work to connect children and youth with a loving forever family. 

Bryan

Wendy’s Wonderful Kids (WWK) is a signature program of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. This program focuses on finding forever families for older youth in foster care. Our mantra is that every child/youth deserves a forever family, and our core belief is “unadoptable is unacceptable.” The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption was started in 1992 by the founder of Wendy’s Restaurants, Dave Thomas, and WWK began in 2004.

Many barriers exist in the search for adoptive families—Wyoming is the ninth largest state geographically but has the lowest population of any state, with roughly 500,000 residents. Because of our small population, there are fewer potential adoptive families, and our communities are spread out and rural. Many of the smaller communities in our state may not have the therapeutic, medical or educational services that youth on our caseloads will need when transitioning into their adoptive families.

Wyoming has a lack of pre- and post-adoptive support services for families. This lack of support often reduces the rate of permanency for youth from foster care. I’ve needed to become knowledgeable about all of the services provided in a given city, and researched many online support resources to provide this information to families.

I must be very creative in my search for families. I often partner with foster care coordinators and private adoption agencies to locate prospective families. I also use newspaper, radio, television and even social media to raise public awareness of the need for adoptive and foster families. I do a lot of file mining to locate birth family members for the youth as well as other connections. I then build a genogram for the youth and reach out to the identified family members. Building a genogram and family tree also helps the youth gain a sense of belonging and self. I contact large employers throughout our state to speak with their employees about adoption, and reach out to churches and religious organizations to educate them about the need.

WWK’s child-focused recruitment technique stresses the importance of face-to-face meetings with the youth as often as possible to build a strong relationship. It also helps recruiters better understand the needs of the children and identify the best possible family. This practice produces strong results and makes the youth feel as though they are part of the recruitment process and that their voices are heard. It’s especially important for the older youth on the case load because they typically have a history of multiple placements and abandonment. They long to feel as though they belong and to have lasting relationships.

Late last year I was able to attend the high school graduation for a young man on my caseload. It was a 600-mile round trip in wintry conditions, but I made it. I had promised him I would make it. His caseworker and family members did not attend the ceremony, so he was very glad to see me. By having a strong relationship with him I was able to be there on the proudest day of his life. We were able to take some pictures together, and we even ate the cake that he had made for the occasion. It made me very happy to do it, and I realized that even the smallest of gestures make a world of difference. Moments like this strengthen my resolve and remind me how important our job is.

I am proud to be a youth advocate, mentor and adoption recruiter for youth growing up in foster care. It truly is an honor.

Bryan Cook
Wendy’s Wonderful Kids recruiter
Wyoming
 

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