Adoption and special needs: Is there room in your heart for a foster child?
On any given day, there are nearly 114,000 children in foster care in the U.S. who are waiting to be adopted. These children have no family of their own. They long for a safe place to call home and most importantly, someone to love them and care about them.
Children in foster care often wait more than five years to be adopted. That’s a lifetime to a child! Annually, nearly 30,000 of these children will leave the foster care system as young adults without a family and a place to call home.
Children enter foster care through no fault of their own, and many of these children experience developmental delays, mental illness, learning disabilities, physical disabilities, as well as other limitations.
Their disabilities often make recruiting adoptive families for them more challenging. The Wendy’s Wonderful Kids Program, a grant funded program through the Dave Thomas Foundation For Adoption, is helping to move children out of foster care and into adoptive families more quickly. The Foundation provides funds to public and private agencies to employ adoption recruiters in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and four provinces in Canada. The recruiters assist state workers in finding permanent families for children who are in foster care awaiting adoption.
Bethany Christian Services of New Hampshire was awarded a WWK grant in 2007 and has received this grant every year since. The NH WWK Program had a banner year in 2011; 11 families adopted 12 special needs children. Two sisters, Jenny, and Emma, were adopted last year at the ages of 14 and 12.
The siblings had been in foster care for more seven years, five of which were spent in a group home. Because each girl has her own set of challenges related to her developmental disabilities, recruiting an adoptive family who would be able to parent both girls proved to be extremely difficult. In 2009, the girls’ team made the decision to recruit a separate adoptive family for each girl. The goal was to find two families who were willing to adopt and help the girls stay connected. Both girls were ultimately matched with families who were able to make the commitment of adoption. Jenny and Emma’s adoptions were finalized in a joint court hearing on June 21, 2011.
Emma’s adoptive mother, Jennifer Weilbrenner said, “The biggest challenge when Emma joined our family was helping Emma learn to be a part of a family and assisting all family members in adjusting to having a new member.”
Ken and Deb Bechard, Jenny’s adoptive parents, said, “Our biggest challenge when Jenny moved in was helping her learn to trust us and that we were really going to be her forever family, because of all the disappointments she had had in the past.”
The two families have forged a relationship to keep the girls connected. They have visits at each other’s homes and in the community, celebrate holidays and family events together, and have gone camping together. The girls maintain contact in between visits via letters, phone calls and Facebook.
The two families have advice they would give to others who are considering adopting a child with special needs. Jennifer Weilbrenner said, “Think about whether you can accommodate the child’s needs both now and into the future. Ask yourself, ‘Do I love this child and can I be OK with not being loved back right away?’ It’s definitely worth it; you’ll be so enriched.”
Deb Bechard said, “It’s one of the most challenging and rewarding things you will ever do.”
For more information about the WWK Program and/or NH children who are awaiting adoption, contact Cathy Brown, WWK recruiter, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 801-6348.