At 17-and-a-half, “Adam” was about to age out of the foster care system in Ohio, with nowhere to go when he turned 18. That’s when a dedicated group of social workers at Northeast Ohio Adoption Services decided it was long past time the teenager found a permanent home.
Adam — a “quirky” kid — had never quite fit into any of his foster homes. He’d spent 14 years in care. Like many of the 500,000 kids in the U.S. child welfare system, and the 100,000 or so children in care of our provinces, he faced a life without family or financial supports once the system deemed him an adult.
Unless someone stepped up to adopt Adam or become his legal guardian, he would be on his own the minute his 18th birthday rolled around.
“They were really truly going to have to drive him to the homeless shelter,” says Cheryl Tarantino, a worker at the Ohio agency.
Fortunately for Adam, Ohio, like a growing number of U.S. states, is taking an aggressive approach to finding permanent homes for older children and teens in its care.
Labelled “extreme recruitment,” these innovative approaches pay off. They are finding homes for the children and young people many states, provinces, and child welfare workers previously considered “unadoptable.”
In Adam’s case, the Ohio county caring for him entered into a public/private partnership with the organization where Tarantino works to do what it couldn’t: Find Adam a family.
Using Facebook and a model called “family finding,” pioneered by youth permanency expert Kevin Campbell, the Northeast Ohio Adoption Services agency tracked down Adam’s birth mother. Then they convened 44 biological family members.
On his 18th birthday, instead of a homeless shelter, Adam moved in with an aunt who became his legal guardian.
It’s a process more Canadian provinces and children’s aid societies need to explore. We need adoptive and other permanent homes for all of our kids in care — and we need to do whatever it takes to find those homes.
New Brunswick, Alberta and British Columbia are getting serious about finding homes for the older children and teenagers in their care. It’s time the rest of the provinces and territories make this a priority, too, and learn from our neighbours to the south.
The teenagers in our child welfare system shouldn’t have to leave it without a home to visit on the holidays, and the love, support and helping hands of a family of their own.