SPRINGFIELD – Governor George H. Ryan today congratulated employees of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and Director Jess McDonald on receiving 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 and Governor Ryan were NBC News Anchor Allison Rosati, Peoria foster parents Tom and Elizabeth Richmond, and adoptive parent/founder of Hope Meadows, Brenda Krause Eheart.
"These awards are a reflection of the hard work and dedication of Jess McDonald and his staff," Governor Ryan said. "Because of our commitment and innovative ideas, Illinois has led the nation in adoptions over the past five years.
"This is good news for the state, but it is even better news for the children who depend on us to find them loving, permanent homes."
The awards 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
HHS Secretary 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.
“The people 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.”
The Adoption 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 placement decisions.
An estimated 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.
Award recipients 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.”
The winners by category are:
Increased permanency for children with special needs
Esther Conyers, 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.
Illinois 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.
Faith House, 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 adoption.
Partnership 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.
Support for Adoptive Families
The Kinship 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.
Mical Anne 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 in 2001.
Child-Rite, 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.
African American 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.
Indiana’s 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.
Individual 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.
Allison Rosati, 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.
Jess McDonald, 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.
Brenda Krause 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.
Daunte Culpepper, 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.
Freddie Mac 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.
Judicial or child welfare system improvement
Massachusetts 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.
Erie County 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.
Catawba County 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 foster care.
Note: All HHS press releases, fact sheets and other press materials are available at http://www.hhs.gov/news.