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A New Approach to Foster Care

 

Adoption is a heartbreaking/ life-changing experience for everyone involved. Especially for those kids who aren’t adopted at birth or at a young age. Often times, they are stuck in the foster care system for most of their childhood. If this happens, the odds are stacked against them that they will move on to live happy, healthy and productive lives.

For this reason, A Way Home Adoption was born. The company was formed by two local moms, Ashley Fields and Kendall Monroe. It is their mission to try to combat these staggering statistics and find these foster kids A Way Home.

How/why/when did you decide to start The Way Home Adoption?

If every child aging out of foster care THIS year had a home, we’d have a societal saving of $6.5 billion in the United States! For every youth that ages out of foster care and enters a world of homelessness, poverty, unemployment or the criminal justice system, the community loses an engaged and contributing member to society. Instead, society gains a lonely adult often in need of continued, expensive public support. Studies show there’s an estimated savings of $235,000 in total public benefits, including child welfare and human services costs, per child for every child that is adopted before aging out of foster care.

Staggering Stats

If adopted before emancipated, children are:

  • 21% less likely to be suspended or expelled from school, and about half as likely to be delinquent or arrested
  • 32% less likely to be incarcerated
  • 34% less likely to have poor interpersonal relationship skills and are 60% less likely to be socially disconnected as young adults
  • 22% more likely to be in the labor force as young adults

However, only 9% of the adoptions will be of children ages 11-17, although the age group makes up one third of those who are waiting. Most of these older youth will spend an average of 55 months in foster care and have lived in more than 6 homes prior to leaving foster care on their 18th birthday.

These children fare much worse than their same age peers. These are just a few statistics describing the outcomes of growing up in foster care:

  • 25% of emancipated foster youth are incarcerated by age 20
  • 68% of emancipated foster youth will receive public welfare benefits within the first four years of aging-out of care
  • Only 45% of foster youth completed high school
  • By age 19, nearly half of young women who have aged out of foster care have become pregnant. And by age 20, nearly half of that group has experienced a second pregnancy.

The genesis

This is why we developed and founded The Way Home Adoption, an agency that partners with our local foster care system to find permanent homes for teenagers who have been lingering in long-term foster care, those for whom traditional adoption efforts have failed. Prior to developing The Way Home Adoption, in both of our careers, we saw over and over again how teenagers in foster care fared worse than their peers. They are moved more often, adopted less, and on their 18th birthday face a life on the streets. It was always clear there was a problem. We decided it was our responsibility to find a solution.
We studied the best way to do older youth adoption, and then formed our organization, The Way Home Adoption, based on those findings.

In looking over your stats, you have impressive placement rates. Why do you feel you are so successful?

We were strategic about not re-creating the wheel. Ashley and I leaned on evidence-based approaches that we know increase the likelihood of success for both the youth and the family. We also made sure the stakeholders in our local child welfare system thought our services would fill a niche. Our success is evidence of the level collaboration we have within the system.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about adopting older kids in foster care?

That it is “too late”. One of the number one questions we get asked is how much of a difference can be made with a child who is already in his/her teen years. The answer is that there is still time. Studies on brain development are now able to scientifically prove that years of trauma can be healed over time. It won’t happen overnight, but adoption does change the trajectory of a child’s future for the better, even a 17-year-old.

What are your goals in the coming year? In 5 years?

We hope to be an example for other counties and even other states. The Way Home Adoption won’t ever be able to expand to be state-wide, mostly due to the time-intensive nature of each case and the number of cases we have in our own back yard. But we hope that our program will prove that these strategies work and worth implementing in every child welfare jurisdiction.

If a family is unable to adopt, how can our community support you?

There really is a role for everyone to play! Everyone can help raise awareness by sharing the stories of our youth. Individuals and businesses can host our Hearts Who Need Homes gallery in their physical buildings and on their social media sites. Everyone can help these children gain more visibility.
We also rely on the generosity of the community to keep our doors open and continue to serve children. The Way Home Adoption doesn’t receive any funds from the government or fees for our work. We are solely supported by individual donations, special events, and community grants.

If a family wants to adopt or foster, what should they do? Is it expensive?

If you are interested in older youth adoption reach out to us at [email protected] Our Enrich & Engage program is something you will not find in another agency in the state. Interested parents can go through a training and background check to become a volunteer with our youth. Studies show that the youth and family are more likely to end up in a successful adoption if they knew each other prior to taking steps toward adoption. Our program is the only one that creates a space for these natural relationships to occur before becoming a licensed adoptive parent.

It is not expensive to become an adoptive parent. There are about 30 agencies in Houston that provide licensing for foster to adopt families. While private adoption is known to be costly, getting a license and adopting a teenager through the state is not.

What kinds of families are you looking for? Which ones are the most successful?

The first thing we look for is someone the child already knows. We sometimes refer to this component of our program, Reconnect, as the ‘cold case unit’. For every child we serve our first step is to re-look at biological family, former foster parents, former teachers, etc. Sometimes the perfect parent for a child is already in their community.
The next step is looking to the community for a family that meets the needs of that individual child. Because of this, it looks a little different in each case. The ones that have an open mind to allowing the child to fit his/her own mold, and not their own, are the most successful.

For older youth, we think you should consider adoption because you have the resources, room, and love to give. Many families don’t think they “need” any more children. We tell people that you may not need another child, but a child needs you. Adopting a teen in foster care is a way to give back to the community by giving a child the one thing that can make the most positive impact on their future: the gift of a family.

Do you have any favorite stories that you want to share?

Most of my favorite stories are the seemingly mundane interactions between our youth and volunteers. These kids have such amazing reservoirs of kindness and resilience. I sometimes feel like they are Houston’s best-kept secret – one we hope will not stay a secret for much longer.

What has been the biggest milestone you have reached?

In our second year, the state commissioner of Texas Department of Family Protective Services signed an unprecedented agreement with The Way Home Adoption which allows us to work with youth in foster care. This agreement allows us to collaborate with CPS while entrusting us to recruit for our children in new ways. It’s a big vote of confidence that we take seriously and feel proud to have.

Their bios

Ashley is a Licensed Master Social Worker with more than 10 years of child welfare and nonprofit experience. She began her child welfare career as a caseworker for Child Protective Services in Houston and then in Philadelphia. Her expertise includes program development, volunteer and staff supervision, and advocacy. Ashley graduated from The University of Texas at Austin with Bachelor of Arts degree. She also holds a Masters of Social Work with a focus on nonprofit leadership and administration from The University of Houston.

Kendall Pace Monroe has a background in development and fundraising, specifically in the non- profit sector. She has worked as a major gifts officer before moving into a planned giving role specializing in estates, trusts, and charitable planning. Kendall graduated Magna Cum Laude from Southwestern University in Georgetown, TX with a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Communication. She also holds a Masters of Public Policy and Administration from Northwestern University in Evanston, IL, graduating Cum Laude.

Interested in Volunteer Opportunities?

Head over to www.thewayhomeadoption.org and help a great organization.

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