State joins forces to find homes for foster children

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After years of small-scale partnership, Indiana’s child welfare agencies finalized an agreement with the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption to develop a program that works to connect some of the state’s most vulnerable foster children with their families forever.

A program of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, Wendy’s wonderful children connects children placed in foster care with recruiters – or social workers – responsible for helping them find their family forever. These recruiters work with smaller workloads, typically around 12 to 15 children at a time, said foundation president and CEO Rita Soronen.

These recruiters then dive deep into the child’s case and story, looking for missed connections in their past and opportunities to bond with adults that have already been in the child’s life. , like a distant relative, coach, teacher, or neglected pastor.

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Wendy’s Wonderful Kids is nothing new to Indiana. In 2007, the program began what The Villages of Indiana President and CEO Shannon Schumacher called an extended pilot, and the state has since recruited four recruiters. But the decision to expand the program is new – details were finalized between the foundation, The Villages and the Indiana Department of Children’s Services in late 2021.

> Soronen said the foundation found that children participating in the program are three times more likely to be adopted than if they were regular activities. Indiana, in its small-scale experiment with Wendy’s Wonderful Kids, had seen more than 100 adoptions drop out of the program by the end of last year.

“Our whole mission is to make sure that children are taken care of in a family that can keep them safe and healthy and loved and cared for,” Schumacher said, “and so this population of children is really most vulnerable. “

How it works

In this public-private partnership, The Villages will oversee the administrative aspect of hiring and managing recruiters, while DCS will identify and refer children to the program. Wendy’s Wonderful Kids will grow in Indiana over the next five years, Schumacher said. The goal is to have 15 recruiters at the end of the first year and 30 at the end of the second.

Having smaller workloads not only gives recruiters more time to find potential families, but also to connect with the kids. It is important, said Soronen, that children feel empowered to be a partner in this process, especially older children who may think they have had no agency since entering the welfare system. ‘childhood.

A new partnership between Indiana DCS, The Villages of Indiana and the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption will provide additional resources to help some of the state's most vulnerable adopted young people find forever families.

“The secret sauce is that it’s good social work,” she said, “but the key ingredient is that ability to focus on individual children rather than a workload of 40, 50 or more. 60 children for whom they are doing other child protection activities, not just focusing on adopting these children.

Many children referred to the program may be considered by some to be difficult to place – young people over 9 years old, groups of siblings, children with special needs.

“Every child deserves a chance to have a happy future. Every child deserves love, a family and a safe home, “DCS Director Terry Stigdon told IndyStar in a written statement.” Our partnership with the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption has helped make this possible for many. children of Indiana, and the Wonderful Kids expansion will help us make a greater positive impact. By working together, we make it possible for every child to find a family forever. “

Soronen told IndyStar that the goal of working with this population of children is to step in and connect them with a family before they age out of the system. (In Indiana, older youth have access to volunteer services until they are in their twenties.)

“We just need to stop this unacceptable pipeline of children leaving the system without families,” Soronen said. “Many of them continue and thrive, but we know they are at a much higher risk of homelessness or of being undereducated or unemployed or falling back into the systems – not because they are. bad kids, but because they don’t. have that family safety net.

Cori Olinger is an adoption supervisor and has already spent approximately five years as a recruiter in Indiana. The program is particularly successful, she said, because of the time spent with each child and the emphasis on reconnecting them with positive influences from their past.

“We come in a different light from what most professionals do with kids, we really build a strong relationship, we get to know them well, we can take them out and have lunch with them,” Olinger said. “We kind of become their person.”

It is gratifying, she says, to help a child find his family forever.

“It’s pretty amazing to watch,” Olinger said.

You can reach IndyStar reporter Holly Hays at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter: @hollyvhays.

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