Chelsea is a Wendy’s Wonderful Kids® supervisor with The Adoption Exchange in Colorado. This column was originally published in the Boulder Daily Camera.
With the coronavirus bringing so much instability and chaos into the world, we are all seeking the comfort, stability and support of our families. That’s why my colleagues and I are fighting harder than ever for the more than 120,000 children waiting in foster care in the United States who need permanent homes right now — including more than 400 in Colorado, where I live. One of those children was Ariana, who was adopted after five long years in foster care.
Ariana was removed from her birth home after enduring years of abuse. She remembers being put in the back of a police car, thinking she had done something wrong. I met Ariana when she was 10 years old, a little girl who was always smiling. But she was slow to trust, and who could blame her? I remember telling her that I would work hard to find her a caring family. Mostly, I remember telling her that she deserved to be happy.
I visited Ariana, now 16, earlier this year. It filled my heart to watch her make pizza with her family like a typical teenager on a Saturday afternoon. And it put into perspective the impact that our work can have on a child’s life, making special moments with family possible that many of us take for granted. For the past 10 years, I’ve worked with the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption’s Wendy’s Wonderful Kids program. Through this program, adoption professionals take on smaller caseloads so that we can build deep and meaningful relationships with the children we serve to find them the right home.
During this time of physical distancing, adoption professionals in Colorado and across the country have been staying connected with the youth in their care through video chats, offering to help them with their homework over the phone, playing games like Charades, or talking about the adults who they look forward to connecting with once they’re allowed to see their supports in-person. We are doing whatever we can to let these young people know that we are here for them and that we remain committed to finding them a forever family.
Our priority is to truly focus on these kids and what they need for the future. This often means identifying people who already know and care about them and will step up to provide a loving, permanent home. Child-focused recruitment takes a little longer, but it works. This model is proven to be up to three times more effective in serving children in foster care who are often overlooked. This includes teenagers who have given up hope, siblings who deserve to stay together and children with special needs who simply need more resources to reach their full potential.
The sad reality is that many adoption professionals juggle caseloads that are much too large. Everyone wants the best for these young people, but with our child welfare system strained, short-term solutions are often prioritized over the stability that children ultimately need to thrive. It is up to all of us to think and work differently during this pandemic on behalf of youth in foster care who are counting on us.
We also implore judges to keep adoption procedures moving virtually. If you know a foster family or grandparents taking care of children who could be struggling, reach out to offer your support. As the number of children waiting to be adopted from foster care continues to rise, we must shine a spotlight on this crisis and act, so that every child has the loving, permanent home they deserve.
More than 120,000 youth are waiting to be adopted from foster care in the United States. No child should face a crisis like COVID-19 without a family. Give now to help find a safe, permanent home for every child.