Special Report: Adoption Agency Recruits Families for Kids
More than a thousand kids in Maine are in need of a home, and many remain in foster care until they’re 18 years old.Last year, an initiative that began in Missouri to target kids at risk of never getting adopted, made its way to Maine.An employee working in the St. Louis foster care system came up with a way to recruit families for at risk kids between 10 and 18 years old.In its first year, they found families for 80% of those kids, compared to 40% the year before.Its success inspired a group in Maine to try it here.The story of thirteen year old twins, James and Jason, is all too familiar at Casey Family Services.They’re an open case atop a pile of hundreds in the state that the adoption agency is trying to close.”Maine has a high rate of children aging out of foster care without permanency,” said the agency’s Maine Division Director, Mark Millar.Every year, as the brothers get closer to eighteen, the prospect of a permanent family seems farther away.”The older a child is and the longer they’re in foster care, the more difficult it is to find somebody who would come forward and make a lifelong commitment,” said Millar.He says it’s a plight that foster kids ten and older have historically had to face.”Disproportionately, they have poor outcomes with high rates of unemployment, incarceration, early teen pregnancy and homelessness.”But Jason, James and 24 other kids could be defying those odds with the help of a pilot project that Millar and his staff decided to bring to Maine a year ago.”It’s sort of modeled after the Extreme Home Makeover program.”The television show focuses on a team building a home for a family that needs one.It inspired members of the foster care system in Missouri to start Extreme Recruitment, a program that hopes to build families for kids who need them.”What we say is if you can make a house over in week, you should be able to find an adoptive home for a child in 6-20 weeks and that’s our goal,” said Millar.And much like the skilled crew piecing together a house on television the agency has put together its own squad to piece together a child’s past.Their goal is to track down and recruit relatives or former friends of the foster child who have the potential to become a permanent family.At the agency’s Bangor office, Nancy Larson has helped head up the initiative.”What makes this project special is that we recruit, generally. We recruit anybody the youth knows. A coach, a teacher, somebody from their past. Youth are not able really at the age of 18 to be on their own. None of us are. They really need our support.”Her staff is made up of private detectives, social workers and the Department of Health and Human Services.Together, they’ve been able to get in touch with families who’ve been searching for some of the kids they’ve been trying to place.”Most of the time they say, I’ve been waiting for this call for years. I have all the photographs, I have the photo albums. I’m so happy you called me,” said Larson.Such was the case with James and Jason, who hadn’t seen their birth mother in years.The agency was able to reunite them with her and their aunt.”Oh my heart was beating fast, still is. I was excited because I had been writing letters for awhile to them and keeping contact with birthday and Christmas. So, I’ve been waiting a long time,” said mother, Karen Dolan.But while they’ve reconnected it’s not a permanent fit.”As much as I’d like to have them back, I mean, I don’t think that’s an option. I would just like to be in their lives,” said Dolan.And with a deadline of 20 weeks, there’s no guarantee their case or the others will ever be closed.”There’s a home for everybody out there, there’s a family for everybody out there,” said Larson.But Casey Family Services believes that by building new relationships with people their foster kids once knew, they’re laying the foundation for a bright future with family.The Department of Health and Human Services is still recruiting families for Jason and James. The agency has been working to place the twins since they entered their custody.If you are interested in learning more about their case, you can contact their caseworker, Laurie Pike, for more information at 255-2039 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.