– The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and Director
Jess McDonald received the Adoption Excellence Award for their outstanding
achievements in helping foster children find adoptive homes from the U.
S. Department of Health and Human Services. Also recognized by HHS were
NBC News Anchor Allison Rosati, Peoria foster parents Tom and Elizabeth
Richmond, and adoptive parent/founder of Hope Meadows, Brenda Krause Eheart.
announcement was made last week by HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson. Below
is the release of all awards.
HHS ANNOUNCES ADOPTION EXCELLENCE AWARDS TO 18 INDIVIDUALS AND GROUPS
WORKING TO PROMOTE ADOPTION
Tommy G. Thompson today announced the selection of 18 individuals and
organizations as recipients of the department’s Adoption Excellence Awards.
Given annually since 1997, the awards honor states, organizations, businesses,
individuals and families for giving abandoned, neglected or abused children
a loving family and a safe and nurturing home.
and organizations we honor with these excellence awards are real heroes
to the many children who need loving homes and families,” Secretary Thompson
said. “These awards reflect our appreciation for their commitment and
big hearts as we all strive to help so many children across the country.”
Excellence awards grew out of the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997.
This law provided unprecedented financial incentives for states to increase
adoptions, made the safety of children the paramount consideration for
determining placement, and mandated swifter time frames for permanent
131,000 children in public foster care are waiting for adoptive homes.
The majority of these children have special needs, such as a history of
maltreatment; physical, mental or learning disabilities; older age (between
7 and 16); or are part of a sibling group. More than 50,000 children were
adopted from public child welfare agencies last year.
are chosen by a committee representing non-profit adoption agencies, child
welfare and adoption advocates, adoptive parents, foundations, the business
community, and state and federal offices. This year, the panel reviewed
70 nominations and chose 18 winners in six categories of excellence.
It is gratifying
to confer this honor on a group of people who really are making a difference
for children,” said Wade F. Horn, Ph.D., assistant secretary for children
and families. “They stand as examples of the many thousands of others
across the country who are helping foster children move to permanent,
stable and loving homes.”
by category are:
permanency for children with special needs
The Village for Families and Children, Inc., Hartford, Conn. During the
last nine years as an adoption worker, Ms. Conyers has worked closely
with the Connecticut State Department of Children and Families to find
permanent, loving homes for its most difficult-to-place children. Ms.
Conyers, an adoptive parent herself, has developed innovative strategies
for recruiting adoptive families; worked closely with the Hispanic community
and with faith-based organizations to promote adoption; and spearheaded
an outreach effort featuring an Adoption Fair and served as chairperson
for the Foster Care and Adoption Collaborative.
Department of Children and Family Services, Springfield, Ill. Through
the leadership of the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS),
Illinois restructured its operations in ways that build on the strengths
and cultural traditions of the African-American family and turned kinship
care into a viable route for achieving permanency. Illinois provided subsidies
to families with guardianship of foster children who were related to them;
established a performance-based payment system to reward agencies for
achieving permanency goals; and implemented state legislative reform that
speeded up permanency plans. After these changes adoption from kinship
care increased 16 percent in three years.
St. Louis, Mo. Faith House cares for children who are drug exposed, HIV
exposed and abused. Faith House recognized that reunification was not
always a viable option for these children and that there were insufficient
adoptive homes available. Therefore, Faith House dedicated itself to finding
good homes for its often hard-to-place children. It has recruited and
trained prospective adoptive parents; conducted public education on child
maltreatment, drug abuse and HIV/AIDS; and placed more than 100 children
for Adoptions, Chesterfield, Va. Partnership for Adoptions has trained
prospective adoptive parents to deal with the challenges of adopting a
special needs child; increased local and statewide adoptions, and experienced
no disrupted adoptions. The partnership brings together a licensed, private
adoption agency, a department of social services, and clinical professionals
in the community.
Center, Adoption and Seedling Clinics, Santa Ana, Calif. The Kinship Center
has provided leadership and innovative funding strategies to create adoption-focused
child development and mental health programs in Orange County that support
the permanent placement of some of the most challenging children in the
child welfare system. The center has a bi-lingual, inter-disciplinary
staff; the capacity to serve the youngest foster children; and a strong
medical and educational advocacy component that supports school readiness.
Morrill, St. Paul, Minn. Mical Anne Morrill is a Family Life Advocate
for Downey Side, Inc.; a not-for-profit organization whose mission is
to provide permanent families for foster care youth age 7 through 17.
Ms. Morrill has won the respect of her colleagues and clients through
her dedication and commitment to support all parties in the adoption process.
She personally placed 18 older special needs children in adoptive homes
Inc., Taos, N.M. Child-Rite, Inc., is a private, non-profit adoption services
and support agency founded in 1986 and dedicated to the belief that there
is no such thing as an “unadoptable” child. Its post-adoption services
include subsidy re-negotiating and troubleshooting, crisis intervention,
community resource referral, respite care and residential treatment arrangements,
monthly phone calls, and advocating for subsequent adoptions if a family
moves out of state.
Adoption Agency, St. Paul, Minn. AAAA has successfully used mass marketing,
cultural connections and community relations to raise awareness and address
the issue of the disproportionate number of African American children
waiting for permanent homes in the State of Minnesota. Included among
their strategies are outreach to faith-based organizations to recruit
adoptive parents; partnerships with professional organizations, non-profits,
community-based groups and corporations; and public awareness campaigns.
Adoption Initiative, Indianapolis, Ind. Indiana’s Adoption Initiative
is an ongoing campaign designed to educate individuals throughout the
state about the need for adoptive homes for special needs children. The
program is a partnership with the Indiana Special Needs Adoption Program
and licensed child placing agencies statewide. During 2001 Indiana’s Adoption
Initiative recorded 18,359 inquiries from prospective adoptive parents
as a result of recruitment efforts through this program. This compares
to only 220 adoption-related inquiries reported by the bureau in 1996,
just before the program’s launch.
and/or family contributions
Tom and Elizabeth
Richmond, Peoria, Ill. Since becoming foster parents in 1993, the Richmonds
have parented or provided respite care for 15 children and adopted 3 children,
all with special needs. Elizabeth Richmond’s interest in helping children
in need began during her internship at a crisis nursery as a college senior.
She has since become one of Illinois’ most vocal advocates for children
and the parents who care for them, whether birth, foster or adoptive.
The Richmonds serve on many adoption-related boards and councils and are
frequently invited to participate in state policy discussions.
Chicago, Ill. Having once been a foster child, Allison Rosati understands
and relates to children who long for a stable family structure. Now a
newscaster with NBC 5 Chicago, she accepted the position as host of the
Wednesday’s Child feature, and dedicated herself to developing a unique
segment for each child. As a result of two years of her work, 23 adoptions
have been finalized, 4 children are with guardianship families and 59
children are moving toward permanency with identified families.
Springfield, Ill. Under the leadership of Jess McDonald, Director of the
Illinois Department of Children and Family Services since 1994, the department
has made dramatic improvement in securing permanency for Illinois children.
McDonald’s initial partnership with Cook County Juvenile Court judges
resulted in the elimination of case backlogs; the convening of special
court sessions on finalizing permanency decisions; the development of
the legal framework for Illinois’ Permanency Initiative, and the reduction
in the average time a child spends in foster care from 4 years to 2 years.
In addition, Illinois has secured 3 separate federal waivers to test policy
innovations designed to support the rapid movement of children from foster
care to permanency.
Eheart, Rantoul, Ill. An adoptive parent herself, Brenda Eheart oversees
Hope Meadows, an intergenerational neighborhood she created eight years
ago on a decommissioned military base. Her foster/adoptive families, fixed-income
seniors and children live together and support one another. Children find
nurturing, permanent homes through adoption; parents receive tremendous
support; and seniors find a safe, affordable, and caring neighborhood
in which to retire. For more than 20 years, Brenda has conducted, published,
and presented research on adoption of foster children. She has demonstrated
how a dedicated, energetic scholar can bring her work to life by actively
engaging politicians, the media, the business community and other academics
in providing permanent, loving homes for America’s waiting children.
St. Paul, Minn. Daunte Culpepper, quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings,
is celebrity spokesperson for the African American Adoption Agency (AAAA)
in St. Paul, Minnesota. Duante, himself adopted, is personally committed
to find permanent homes for Minnesota’s more than 350 waiting children
of color. While Duante’s generosity has resulted in significant direct
and indirect financial support, his philanthropic contributions are much
more far-reaching. He has made substantial contributions by donating the
proceeds from television appearances, organizinghis own celebrity basketball
tournament, committing proceeds from the National Quarterback of the Year
awards banquet and much more. He has dispelled pervasive misconceptions
about adopting African American boys by speaking openly about his experience
as an adopted child in dozens of media interviews.
Foundation, McLean, Va. The Freddie Mac Foundation helps children fulfill
the dream of having a family of their own. The foundation was founded
in 1991 as a nonprofit organization dedicated to opening doors to hope
and opportunity for children, youth and their families. Freddie Mac and
the foundation have invested more than $130 million in nonprofit organizations
that serve children and families. The foundation began the “Wednesday’s
Child” program in 1992 as a feature of the local news in Washington, D.C.
It has grown to include the Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Dallas and
Atlanta television markets.
or child welfare system improvement
Coalition for Permanency for Children, Leverett, Mass. The Massachusetts
Coalition for Permanency for Children (MCPC) is a multidisciplinary volunteer
group with representation from the courts, public/private child welfare
agencies, attorneys and community advocates, as well as, birth, foster
and adoptive families. MCPC developed a permanency mediation model that
offers an alternative to contested court proceedings. While a contested
legal process takes an average of two to three years to resolve permanency,
a mediated permanency agreement takes three to five months after the parties
agree to mediate. In the first year, 450 children were referred to the
program and in the second year 518 children were served. Massachusetts
in now a national model for permanency mediation.
Court Improvement Project, Buffalo, N.Y. The Court Improvement Project
(CIP) is a collaboration of the Erie County Family Court, Erie County
Department of Social Services, New York State Office of Children and Family
Services, child welfare agencies, legal advocates, and service providers.
At its inception in 1998, a child placed in a foster/adoptive family could
expect to remain in the system for 6½ years through the finalization of
his adoption. Five years later, the number of children in foster care
has decreased by 44 percent and more than 900 children have been adopted
into permanent families.
Department of Social Services, Newton, N.C. From 1998 through 2002, Family
Builders of Catawba Valley (FBCV), the adoption unit of Catawba County
Social Services, created a dramatic change in the county’s foster care
population. Adoption increased by 50 percent; the foster care population
decreased; more children exited the county’s custody; and the median number
of days in foster care decreased from 18 months to 11 months. FBCV undertook
major system reforms to realize these achievements, including a Court
Improvement Initiative redesigned the court system to streamline the judicial
processes involved in adoption and an expanded adoption recruitment program
to address the disproportionate number of African-American children in
HHS press releases, fact sheets and other press materials are available