Local officials are reaching out to the community to find permanent homes for 26 children in Fairfax County that are currently in foster care. The Fairfax County Department of Family Services and Kidsave International launched a new program last week that will partner up children legally free for adoption with families over weekends, to extend the network of people exposed to the children.
The partnership between the two organizations is called “Kidsave Fairfax Weekend Miracles” and is designed to “engage the power of the community” to create new ways to find adoptive parents for older foster children. Traditionally, these foster children are not exposed to the community at large and are not known beyond the system and their foster care families. That limits the number of people who get to know these children and who would consider adopting them.
Weekend Miracles aims to change that by exposing the children to new people and the network of friends and family that exist for the host family.
“These are kids that just really need a chance. It could make a world of difference in the lives of these children," said Kidsave president Terry Baugh.
Statistics show that children left in foster homes to age out of the system face tremendous obstacles to becoming successful adults. According to Kidsave statistics, “Young people without connections to grownups can face serious problems. A number of studies report that young people who leave foster care without a family are less likely to graduate from high school and are more likely to become homeless, go on welfare, and be arrested and incarcerated.”
While the ages of the 26 children in the county who are available for adoption vary, Baugh says they are mainly in the 9- to 10-year-old age group.
MANY PEOPLE erroneously believe that older children in foster care are there because they are bad or that something is wrong with them. “There are huge misconceptions about these kids. When a kid goes through neglect and abuse, there is trauma that goes with that, but these are just kids. A lot of that stuff goes away when they establish trust and feel safe,” said Baugh, herself an adoptive parent of an older child.
“Every kid deserves a chance, and every kid deserves love. We can make it happen with this program,” said Board of Supervisors chairman Gerry Connolly, who helped launch the program.
Weekend Miracles is patterned after a hosting program that brings Russian children from orphanages over to the United States to spend a summer with a family. This is often the only time these children are exposed to anything other than an institutional life. Some of the families who have participated in that program have adopted the children they met.
“We believe Fairfax County will become a model nationwide,” said Edward Maibach, co-chair of the board of Kidsave International. “If we can move children into a slightly different network, somebody will fall in love with them.”
“Citizens of our nation come to the aid of children who need them all the time. We can absolutely find homes for every one of the 26 children who are ready for adoption. This really is an opportunity for Fairfax County to show that no child will be left behind,” said Maibach.
The program still needs to raise about $200,000 from businesses and citizens, in addition to getting host families, advocates, mentors, and ultimately adoptive families.
Individuals and couples wanting to become host parents will have support from the county and from Kidsave staff. Prospective host families will attend three information sessions before making the final determination to host. Kidsave staff will work directly with the families throughout the length of the hosting. “They won’t be alone. We definitely want them not to feel alone,” said Baugh.
Weekend Miracles hosts are asked to make at least a three-month commitment to the program.
THE CHILDREN will also be emotionally prepped before going on weekends. “Child preparation is a very important part of this program. They will have dealt with loss and grief issues associated with their situation. The parameters of the program are clearly defined for kids,” said Baugh.
Dranesville District supervisor Joan DuBois said, “I think this is a wonderful initiative to support adoptive placement of older Fairfax County children in foster care who need permanent families. I applaud the Kidsave program, which enables these older children waiting for adoption to have a meaningful relationship with a family on weekends who will provide a comfortable, relaxed and nurturing environment for them. With community awareness and the efforts of Kidsave, this program will provide opportunities to these very deserving children.”
“There are roles for everybody to play [in the program]. Every child will be given a mentor. We need volunteers who will advocate for the children, and we need people to help us fund the program. It is our hope that funding will be in place by late spring, so that additional community outreach can begin,” said Maibach.
“Our success is crucial. Having a stable family life or an adult who has taken an interest, reached out, and created a bond of affection are key factors in building productive adults and preventing youth violence. A positive social orientation and clear standards of behavior are protective factors a family provides,” Maibach said.
More information on the program is available at www.kidsave.org.
<bt>As of Dec. 30, 2003, there were 474 children in the custody of the Fairfax County Department of Family Services residing in foster care homes or residential facilities. In 2003, some 37 percent of the children who left foster care returned to their biological families, 23 percent were placed with a relative, 19 percent were adopted, 10 percent were in an independent living program, 8 percent aged out of care, 2 percent married and 1 percent were in jail.
The Jim Casey Foundation concludes that nationwide, four years after leaving the foster care system, 46 percent of the young people don’t have a high-school diploma, 25 percent have experienced homelessness, 42 percent have become parents, and less than one in five is completely self-supporting.