November is National Adoption Awareness Month. Adoption can take many shapes and forms. It can be done through private attorneys or organizations or public agencies. It can place children with relatives or others within or across communities, states, and even countries. It can happen for infants, toddlers, young children, or adolescents. Adoption can look like any combination of these, but the majority of adoptions nationwide are non-relative adoptions handled by public agencies within the same community or state.
Right here in Fairfax County, 34 children in each of fiscal years 2014 and 2015 and 15 children in fiscal year 2016 were adopted from foster care according to the Department of Family Services (DFS) 2016 Annual Report. Those children were fortunate — but they represented fewer than half of all children in foster care in Fairfax County with a goal of adoption during those periods. How can we increase the chances of finding permanency for some of our most vulnerable young people?
There are dedicated people working on bettering outcomes for children available for adoption, including within DFS. DFS publicizes the fact that “more than 70 percent of … adoptive families begin as foster parents, then commit to adopting the child in their care.”
This suggests that to the extent Fairfax County currently succeeds at placing its children who are in foster care with a goal of adoption into adoptive families, it is largely through cultivation of adoptive families from among its foster families. DFS Foster Care and Adoption Specialist Amanda Macaulay says that this happens through significant and concerted efforts to provide support and training to “resource families,” families who come to DFS interested in fostering or adopting who are dual-approved — for foster care and adoption — and who are given extensive tools and ongoing training to successfully engage with children throughout what is a journey, whether the goal is family reunification or relative placement, or becomes adoption. The hope is that these resource families will feel comfortable and confident, if and when the time comes, making a natural progression to becoming adoptive families.
In an effort to increase the size of the pool of foster families from which 70 percent of Fairfax County’s adoptive parents come, DFS works hard to disseminate information about and generate interest in fostering. DFS Community Educator/Recruiter Emma Marshall describes the work she and her colleagues do as “trying to reach as many people as possible” to convey to our communities the need for foster families and information about how fostering works. Ms. Marshall describes efforts to reach people through radio and television, newspapers and websites, neighborhood and community events, and churches and service organizations, among other avenues. Foster Parent Ambassadors play a key role in extending DFS’s reach; DFS trains some of its foster parents to serve in community outreach roles, talking formally and informally with friends, neighbors, and others in the community about what being a foster family really means and how they can get involved. Getting more families in the door is critical to increasing the numbers of children moving from foster care to adoption when that is the goal.
The crucial work of DFS staff and people in other professional and volunteer organizations working with children to secure permanency, to create “forever families,” can be leveraged through efforts by the rest of us. Beyond having read this article, what can you do during National Adoption Awareness Month to further your own awareness or increase the awareness of others?
Attend a DFS information session, held on the second Monday of each month.
Call the DFS Foster Care and Adoption Unit to find out more about the program or ask specific questions.
Talk to family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues about adoption in all its forms, and encourage them to educate themselves about the need for resource families right here in Fairfax County.
Contact the Fairfax CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) office to ask about becoming a volunteer CASA or contributing to the mission in other ways.
Go to www.adoptuskids.org/states/va/browse.aspx if you are interested in opening your home to one of the many wonderful children awaiting adoption here in Virginia.
All children deserve safe and loving homes.