November 27, 2003
Children’s Division Striving To Create Awareness Of Adoption Process
While they may not have a magic wand, for many area children the staff of the Children’s Division of the Department of Social Services here in Scotland County still serve as a fairy godmother for a lot of kids in need.
One of the major roles these individuals play is in the adoption process for children that are removed from their home settings for a variety of reasons. As November is National Adoption Awareness Month this time of year the process garners a little extra attention.
Circuit Manager Barbara Blessing said the national awareness month helps bring to light not only the services available for children and families but also makes the public aware of the need for both adoption families as well as foster homes.
“Locally we go in spurts as far as having children awaiting adoption but statewide our division always has children needing to be placed in adoptive homes,” Blessing said.
This isn’t the typical adoptive setting. It’s not an orphanage for children whose parents are deceased or who have been left behind.
The Children’s Division works with kids that have had to be removed from their home for one of a number of reasons ranging from criminal or neglectful activities of parents or guardians to behavioral or discipline issues with the children themselves.
“A lot of our cases begin with a hotline call,” Blessing said. “We receive a call from someone reporting a problem with a particular child or family. It’s our job to investigate these issues and determine if further action is necessary.”
This is where Amy Frederick gets involved. Frederick serves as investigator for the circuit office, covering Scotland, Clark and Schuyler counties.
Frederick is joined by representatives from local law enforcement, the juvenile office and family services in a multi-disciplinary team. They review the situation to determine if the child needs to be removed from the home.
“Of course there is a big misconception that the Children’s Division is the one who takes the child out of the home,” Blessing said. “That’s wrong. We have no jurisdiction to do so. Removal is strictly up to the juvenile office or law enforcement.”
If a child is removed from the home the Children’s Division places them with a family member or a foster home.
The first goal of the process is the ultimate reunification of the family. But Blessing said unfortunately that is not always possible.
“These kids have the right to live in a safe, healthy environment, free from abuse and neglect,” she said. “A key to this picture is permanency, and ultimately that is what an adoptive home provides if reunification is not possible.”
September was a unusual one for the First Circuit Children’s Division. There were no out of home placements in Scotland County and just three in the whole circuit. Statewide in September there were more than 400 out of home placements.
But while there were no children placed in foster care, an adoptive setting or a residential care facility in September there are currently more than 30 kids in Scotland County foster homes.
That raises the obvious concern for availability of foster care locally.
Fortunately area residents have stepped up to the challenge. There are 14 registered foster homes in the first circuit with 10 of those, right here in Scotland County. Still that is not enough as the process can be rather lengthy for the kids determining if they can return home or if they will be placed in an adoptive home.
“Each case varies as there is no cookie cutter approach to the placement of children but the process is geared to try to reunite the child with his or her parents,” Blessing said.
But ultimately the law mandates some form of permanency for the child. If the child is out of the home for 15 of the last 22 months another permanency plan other than reunification must be put in place.
This is where adoption enters the picture.
The first option is a kinship placement. Often the best choice is with another family member. The Children’s division reviews the home and the family member undergoes a background check to insure the fitness of the new home for the child.
If there are no kinship placement opportunities the child is placed in a foster home. In the case of a kid with behavioral issues, they can also be placed in a residential care facility to receive treatment and counseling for their problems.
There are also different levels of foster care. The traditional foster home setting is the lower level home. This home can host up to six children (including the natural children of the parents).
Level two is called the behavioral level with level three the career level, which is basically for children that are beyond parental supervision. Currently there is not a career level foster home available locally.
To become a foster home, interested parties simply must contact the Children’s Division. To become a contracted foster home, the participants must complete a 27-hour STARS course and submit to home reviews and pass criminal and child abuse and neglect background checks.
When the court takes action and terminates parental rights, if there are no family members to consider for adoption, the foster home usually has the first opportunity to be considered for adoptive placement if they have decided they are interested. Many homes choose to foster only, with no intention of ever adopting.
“The goal is permanency and that’s why the foster home gets an early opportunity to step forward to adopt the child as it is obviously less disruptive to the child not to have to make another move to a new home,” Blessing said.
If the child is not adopted by a family member or the foster home the Children’s Division seeks another adoptive home. The ultimate decision as to a child’s placement is the result of a team decision made by the guardian ad litem, the juvenile officer, Children’s Division and ultimately the Circuit Judge.
Persons wishing to adopt must complete the same process required to become a foster parent. In addition, adoptive parents must also complete the Spaulding course, which is geared toward the special needs unique to an adoptive placement. There will also have been a satisfactory home study completed before homes are considered as a potential placement.
Meanwhile children in need of adoption have profiles created by the Children’s Division. These profiles are made available to prospective adoptive parents as the process attempts to find a good match between children and the new parents
Missy Smith is the adoption specialist in Scotland County. Vicki Whitlow serves Schuyler County and Clark County is served by Ellen Sterner. Barbara Melton is the adoption supervisor for the circuit.