National Newswire

Adoption Matching Expo Brings Public and Private Agencies Together

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Often, the story goes like this: public agencies have taken custody of children waiting to be adopted, and private agencies have recruited families waiting to adopt. Of course the private agencies and public agencies aren't strangers to each other--after all, many of them are neighbors, working in the same geographic area. But what if there's a family willing to adopt a medically fragile teen boy, and just such a boy is in care six or seven counties away?

In Ohio, private and public agencies from across the state have been coming together to connect their families and children at an annual Adoption Matching Expo for three years. The event has been so popular that this year there were two--one in May and one in November. "The reason we have it is because there's a need for it," explains Mark Mecum, the associate director for governmental relations at the Ohio Association of Child Caring Agencies (OACCA), one of the organizers of the event.

Information books about children waiting to be adopted and parents interested in adopting helped agencies make matches during Ohio's recent expo.

The November event actually introduced a new format to the matching expo. "In the past what we've done is, we have presentations of waiting children," Mecum says. "So the public agencies would--let's say, the Franklin County Children's Services agency--would present 20 of their children waiting for adoption." The audience, individuals representing agencies with families interested in adopting, would take note about any of the children who might be a good fit for those families. That still happened this time around--but only as half of the event. For the rest of the time, the private agencies presented their waiting families and let the public agencies take notes. Potential matches could be approached from both the family's and the child's perspective. "We thought it would be more effective if we had both sides presenting," Mecum says.

One other event, in the Cleveland area, brings public and private agencies together like this. Mecum says the idea for a statewide event came from the private agencies. OACCA, a CWLA member, collaborated with two other CWLA members--the Public Children Services Association of Ohio and the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS)--for the expos. "It's a great event," says Jennifer Justice, bureau chief for child/adult protective services at ODJFS. "We feel really fortunate to play even a supportive role." Since they started three years ago, ODJFS has hosted the events in centrally located Columbus.

Justice explains that agency representatives come together at well-attended meetings of the Ohio Adoption Planning Group to set up the expos and other events that aim to increase adoption in the state. The expos focus on harder to adopt children and youth--those who are older, medically fragile, or part of a sibling group. Mecum says there's a common refrain that he hears frequently from both private and public groups: "There's no such thing as an unadoptable kid." He believes private agencies make it their expertise to find families interested in a particular type of adoptable youth, like teenagers. "We've seen kids adopted the day before their 18th birthday," he says. "Teenagers are adopted every year in Ohio and across the country."

Mecum reports that about 60 individuals attended the November event, representing 14 county agencies and 14 private agencies. While more would be welcome, Mecum and Justice both say their state is very diverse; some of the smaller or more rural counties may not have a full-time adoption specialist to send to the expo, and they may have so few children waiting to be adopted that the trip wouldn't be necessary. Mecum says both the general population and the foster care population of Ohio is mostly concentrated in three large counties, and he feels attendees at past events have represented as much as 90% of Ohio's waiting children. Justice points out that organizers set up tables to display information of absent agencies: "If a particular county... can't attend, they can go ahead and send the information about their families or their waiting children."

While they don't currently have a reliable way to track matches that are made at the expo and result in finalized adoptions, both Mecum and Justice are convinced the events are making a difference. Mecum guesses at least a dozen strong potential matches are made at each event; Justice says it's worth it if even one child finds a family. "I definitely think this is one of the avenues that does assist in our adoption finalization effort," Justice continues. "There's lot of things that people across the state are doing to make sure that our children's voices are heard and that permanency is achieved for them."

Meghan Williams is a contributing editor to Children's Voice.

Connecticut

The state Board of Education has tightened and clarified policies about how child abuse and neglect suspected by educational staff should be reported. This summer, the attorney general and child advocate published the results of a two-year investigation of several school districts, calling on the school districts, the state Department of Education, and Department of Children and Families (DCF)--a CWLA member--to work jointly to improve reporting. The policy changes require certified staff to report suspected cases directly to DCF within 24 hours, while noncertified staff should report to their supervisors, who in turn contact DCF. School districts will keep logs of all referrals.

North Dakota

A father whose daughter was removed from his care several years ago was advocating for an ombudsman program for families receiving social services in North Dakota. Several other states, including Alaska, Washington, Utah, Arizona, Texas, Kentucky, and Maine, have ombudsman offices for child protection, child welfare, or health and human services. Representatives from the North Dakota Department of Human Services, a CWLA member, and the governor's office told the Grand Forks Herald that several options already exist for citizens who have complaints about their experience with the department. Additionally, many decisions are made locally in North Dakota, which has a state-supervised, county-administered child welfare system.

Florida

After 33 years, the state's unique ban on adoptions by gay and lesbian couples ended in October. The Third District Court of Appeals ruled the ban unconstitutional in September. Then, the Florida Department of Children and Families, a CWLA member agency, agreed October 12 to forgo an appeal of the adoption of two brothers by Frank Martin Gill, and 10 days later the Florida attorney general also chose not to file an appeal. With no appeals, the ban remains overturned. An article in last year's November/December issue of Children's Voice examined the issue of gay adoption, including Gill's case; the article is available at www.cwla.org/voice/ND09 family.html.

To comment on this article, e-mail voice@cwla.org.

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