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2003 Adoption Excellence Awards issued to three Illinois programs/families

CHICAGO -- Three Illinois programs/families were selected to receive the 2003 Adoption Excellence Award from the United States Department of Health and Human Services. Family Tree Adoption Connections, One Church One Child, and Maria and Evan Thomas received the prestigious award on November 6, 2003 at a Washington, D.C. ceremony. The award was established in 1997 to recognize outstanding accomplishments in achieving permanency for America's children in foster care by states, child welfare agencies, organizations, courts, businesses, individuals, and families. Nominees are recommended for Adoption Excellence Awards based on: measurable impact or outcomes, collaboration/partnerships, use of technology, innovation/uniqueness, leadership, outreach, use of volunteers, return in investments, ability to replicate, and community involvement.

In the United States, there are nearly 542, 000 children in foster care. Over 65, 000 of those are free for adoption and awaiting a permanent home. The following Illinois agencies/families are recognized for their commitment and contribution to this cause:

Family Tree Adoption Connections (Support for Adoptive Families Category) nominated by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services

The Family Tree Adoption Connections program supports adoptive families in Vermilion County through an array of services that empower them in a non-threatening and nurturing environment. The program reaches out to families who may have feelings of mistrust or alienation associated with more traditional family-based services such as counseling or other "clinical" services and offers them a welcoming setting that normalizes their concerns. Through reducing stress and increasing positive interactions within and between adoptive families, the program brings hope and healing to many parents and their children.

The program includes a variety of family-oriented activities, such as multi-family outings, parent educational and support groups, parent retreats, family weekend camps, and activities for adopted youth. Educational support groups bring parents together for presentation by guest speakers, while children participate in their own structured activities.

In 2002, Family Tree Adoption Connections served 152 clients in support groups for parents and children, 33 clients in parenting classes, 22 in adoptive parent support groups, and offered childcare for 46 children. They offer these programs to families on an annual grant-funding budget of $34,541 supplemented by fund-raising and volunteer efforts.

One Church One Child (Public Awareness Category) nominated by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services

One Church One Child (OCOC) has been a leader in special needs adoption for 23 years. The program was created in the state of Illinois in 1980 with leadership provided by Father George Clements, along with a group of ministers, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, and other governmental officials.

To date, it is estimated that over 15,000 Illinois children have been adopted as a direct result of the recruitment and community outreach efforts of OCOC. Over 20,000 presentations have been made in churches, schools and programs, and thousands of community members have been made aware of the need to adopt children. Since its inception in Illinois, thirty-eight states and the District of Columbia have formed One Church One Child organizations. An estimated 60,000 children have been adopted nationally because of the program.

One Church One Child has been a leader in the development of best practice around recruitment and retention of adoptive families. It has a unique training program for its recruiters, most of whom are foster or adoptive parents. Each recruiter is linked to an OCOC member church and has direct and personal contact with church members. In addition, One Church One Child has led the state in developing sound follow-up and tracking practices from family inquiry to the placement of children and adoption finalization.

The program's success is in part due to its many collaborative and unique partnerships. It works with private agencies to see that families are licensed and matched with waiting children. It has a history of working in partnership with and providing leadership to the state's other recruitment efforts, including the award winning Corporate Partnership for Recruitment of Adoptive Families program, Howard University's HOTEP (Holding on to Every Person) program, The Casey Foundation's Family to Family program, the Breakthrough Series Collaborative on Recruitment, and countless community based and targeted recruitment efforts.

Maria and Evan Thomas (Individuals and/or Family Contribution Category) nominated by the Adoption Information Center of Illinois

The Thomases not only exhibit many of the qualities of an ideal adoptive family, but they have also been outspoken advocates for finding loving homes for America's waiting children. They have adopted four waiting children: Reuben James, 17, and three related sisters, Beatriz, 15, Julia, 13, and Grace, 12. The youngsters are thriving in their care due not only to the Thomases' loving support and bright-eyed optimism, but also to their absolute commitment to maintaining sibling bonds. For example, after the Thomases adopted Beatriz and Julia, they were informed about an opportunity to bring Grace into their home. "How could we refuse?" said Mrs. Thomas.

The Thomas family also ensures that the children have regular visits with siblings who live elsewhere. While many families say they understand the importance of the sibling bond, few go to the lengths that the Thomases do to nurture and maintain those bonds. They are great examples to other adoptive families in this regard.

The Thomases serve as adoption advocates for waiting children in general and have written various articles regarding adoption. They have also lent their time and energy to various adoption conferences and other forums, highlighting the rewards of adopting older children. Even the Thomas children are strong adoption advocates and have written articles about the rewards and challenges of being adopted. The Thomas family is leading by example and helping increase public awareness of this very critical issue.

Jill Manuel
Illinois Department of Children and Family Services


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