End the wait

By Janine Castillo, Intensive Recruiter, The Adoption Exchange

Two years ago, I showed a 12-year-old girl in foster care, Tiana*, a picture of her biological father and asked her what questions she had about her birth family.  She responded, “What color are my mom’s eyes?”  In that moment, I didn’t have an answer and neither did anyone on her team of professionals, who are responsible for ensuring her care, safety and services in foster care.

When she asked that question, the culmination of our two years together hit me. Her experience without safe and healthy parents is directly linked to her daily interactions. The reason why she soaks up one-on-one time with adults or falls asleep like a baby when a caregiver sings to her is because of her desire for nurturing and affection. Developmental milestones were denied to her at a young age, as she entered the foster care system at three years old and grew up in treatment centers not experiencing a “typical” family structure. How could she talk about a future with a new family when she remembers so little of her own story?   

Tiana’s perspective of the world and who cares about her is full of uncertainty and her experience is shared by many youth waiting in foster care. Waiting in foster care begins when a youth enters care and ends when they reach permanency through reunification, adoption, emancipation or guardianship. This means not knowing where you will sleep at night because placement changes occur frequently. Waiting in foster care means constantly meeting new professionals and changing schools. A team of professionals who coordinate by email and monthly meetings are responsible for making choices about activities, friends and “normal” interactions such as sleepovers. Waiting in foster care means hoping someone, somewhere is willing to give you a chance and accept you as part of their family.

When Tiana and I first met, she had already been waiting in foster care for seven years and was in her sixth placement. Like all children, Tiana deserves the security and love of a permanent family, and as her recruiter, it is my job to work with her team and employ aggressive practices and proven tactics to find her the security and love of a permanent family.

In my work I follow an intensive child-focused model, which is targeted to build connections and create permanency for youth like Tiana who are waiting in foster care. I have a small caseload of 18-25 youth and work to build trust and openness through consistent contact and visits with my youth to help gain insight about their individual needs in order to be successfully placed with a family. Part of this work includes reviewing their file, diligent search efforts, network building and adoption preparation. Adoption preparation includes identity work such as learning about their family tree or genogram. In order to know who they are and where they are going, youth must know where they came from. Currently, my fellow recruiters and I are targeting topics at quarterly youth events and during our one-on- one visits to provide education around permanency topics; for example, “Healthy Relationships” is a topic we will be covering in December. Processing support through grief and loss is also vital to the needs of waiting youth as all adoptions start with loss.

Each piece of this intensive, child-focused recruitment program helps create lifetime supports for youth waiting in foster care. These youth are strong, resilient, deserving and most of all inspiring to those who work with them directly. 

Two years later, Tiana now knows the color of her mom’s eyes, but she is still waiting for an adoptive family of her own.  You could be the answer to ending her wait.  View and learn more about waiting children like Tiana in the Colorado Heart Gallery.

*Child’s name changed due to confidentiality

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