About 1,700 children are in the state’s foster care system, waiting for their “forever families.”
Adoption Rhode Island, a non-profit organization that works with DCYF, is there to help make those lifetime matches.
The organization recruits possible families looking to adopt or foster kids. Support is provided to those families who want to adopt. According to the Adoption RI website, the program helps place 150 to 200 children with families annually, and has over 200 families in adoption matching. According to Bernie Hicks, special projects coordinator for the organization, approximately 7,000 kids are involved with Rhode Island DCYF “in some way.”
Adoption Rhode Island puts the children’s needs as a priority. They host events throughout the year such as backpack drives, prom attire drives, and holiday gift drives. All of these benefit the kids in the foster care system.
According to Darlene Allen, CEO and executive director of Adoption RI, “Children in foster care have experienced trauma, separation from their parents and can feel isolated and sad. We believe that everyone in the community has a role in helping these children. Although we can’t eliminate the reasons they entered foster care, we can come together to improve their lives and let them know that people really do care about them. We can provide hope to kids that really need it,” she said in an email. Drives and events that the community can participate in helps to create normal life experiences for children. They can attend birthday parties, camp, prom and graduation.
“We host many events for children and families to provide numerous opportunities for children to experience many positive and fun childhood experiences that they may not otherwise have,” said Allen.
Recently, the organization sponsored its third annual backpack drive – “The Duffle Bag Bash” – for children who don’t have proper bags to carry their belongings in. The program collaborated with Attorney Lise Iwon, and the Office of the Child Advocate staged the event. According to Allen, about 400 people showed up to the event, with an estimated 800 bags donated and “thousands of dollars of gift cards and cash donations were collected”.
Hicks has a personal connection to the organization. She joined the Adoption RI community in response to an appeal for volunteers. The business she worked with at the time had recently closed down, so it was a perfect opportunity for her.
“That’s what got my foot in the door, so to speak,” she said.
In the course of 26 years, her family has fostered 50 to 60 kids in their home. They have adopted seven. Her children are now grown and have adopted as well. Hicks believes that through foster care and adoption children “can realize that they can have dreams, and those dreams can come true. They can go onto college, regardless of what their family’s past history was, they can have families of their own, and there are people out there that do genuinely care about them.”
Events such as the Duffle Bag Bash will leave an impact on the kids, according to Hicks. She said children will see they are receiving a brand-new backpack with the tags still on it; it won’t be a hand me down like most cases. “It’s not old and battered and whatnot,” she said, “and they start to feel better about themselves.”
At least seven steps go into the initial adoption process.
Hicks explained that the individual who is adopting must be at least 21 years or older. They must be able to pass a background check, and be financially stable in terms of taking care of both themselves and the child they are adopting. This means being able to have a roof over their head, be able to put food on the table, and provide clothing. The individual must contact DCYF and fill out paperwork – “there’s always tons of paperwork,” Hicks added.
DCYF provides a class for the adoptive family, and after that is finished, they will write a home study (a packet that tells the social worker about the person’s life at home and all about them). After this process is complete, the individual is licensed to adopt, and as Hicks put it: “then it’s time to look!”
As the children get older, it is more difficult to place them. According to Hicks, teenagers are the hardest age group to find forever homes for, and infants and toddlers under the age of 5 the easiest.
When asked what she would say to those who are considering adoption but are still unsure, Hicks replied with, “do your research.”
She advised to ask both the difficult and simple questions, but ask all of the questions; talk to other families who have adopted and fostered children; and finally, make sure it is something that one truly wants to go ahead with. She explained that Adoption RI provides informational meetings regarding the decision.
“It’s a wonderful experience to do, it’s not easy. It might be one of the hardest jobs you ever do, but it’s the most satisfying and worthwhile job you’ll ever do,” she said.
When adopting or fostering a child through the state of Rhode Island, Adoption RI provides training and support.
“Adoption Rhode Island provides lots of support for pre-adoptive and adoptive families, and there is no fee,” Hicks said. There is only a fee when adopting through a private agency, but Adoption RI and DCYF have no fees. According to the DCYF website, financial assistance is available for those who adopt a child with special needs, and if a determination is made that the child cannot return home.
For more information about fostering children or adopting children, contact Adoption Rhode Island and visit their website at adoptionri.org.