by Lester Holmes, Communications Officer, Department of Health and Human Services
There are more than 300 children in Cuyahoga County who need a permanent family. Laura Fonseca and Matthew Goodwin are part of the team responsible for finding them loving homes.
Fonseca, a Permanency Support Specialist, and Goodwin, a Child Protection Specialist, have close to 50 years of combined experience at Cuyahoga County Division of Children and Family Services (DCFS). In recognition of National Adoption Month, the pair share their thoughts about adoption and the need for the community to do its part to provide for our most vulnerable.
How has the process of adopting a child evolved over the years, and what changes have you observed in terms of public perception and adoption policies?
Goodwin: We have seen an increase in the numbers of children eligible for adoption, and an increase in the length of time children spend in the system waiting to be matched with adoptive families, especially with our adolescent and teenage youth. In response to this, the State has taken several actions to streamline and incentivize these processes, to increase public awareness and encourage more families to explore if becoming an adoptive resource for the children in our community is something that they feel right to pursue.
Fonseca: The adoption process can take longer than what adoptive families would like but it is a process with the courts if there is an appeal to the permanent custody decision, gathering the child’s documents, negotiating subsidy, and gather the paperwork for the adoption court packet. The important thing is to work together as a team and communicate well and this will make the process a lot smoother.
What challenges do you face in finding suitable homes for children in need of adoption, and how is DCFS addressing these challenges?
Goodwin: There are simply not enough suitable, adoptive homes to meet the volume of need in our community, first and foremost. Additionally, many of the children needing adoptive permanency are older children/teens, and sibling groups. As an agency, we continue to step up our recruitment efforts for foster and adoptive families, and further our communication with the people and partners in our community to meet the needs of our children.
Fonseca: The biggest challenge is finding homes for larger sibling groups, children with medical needs, and for our older youth. The agency is addressing this by listing available children on the AdoptUSKids website and assigning Wendy’s Wonderful Kids Workers who assist with the recruitment for available children and youth. Providing recruitment services for children/youth is very important in finding potential adoptive families for harder to place children/youth.
What specific support and resources does DCFS offer to prospective adoptive parents, and how does this contribute to successful adoptions?
Fonseca: There is adoption subsidy, medical coverage for the child, and post adoption services for adoptive families. There is also a program called Ohio Rise who provides support to adoptive parents who may need continued support after the adoption. Some of the supports are case management services, linking the family up to services, and respite services for the adoptive family.
What role does community education and outreach play in promoting awareness about the benefits and challenges of adoption?
Goodwin: Adoption is a completely unique experience for children and families. No two are ever the same, nor should they be. Considering this, the conversation and educational efforts with the community are ongoing, and should include stories of many different experiences, both good and bad. Families should have as much information about adoption and the processes involved so that they can make decisions that are informed and prepared.
Could you share a success story that highlights the positive impact of adoption on a child and their adoptive family?
Goodwin: Laura and I worked collectively on a very challenging adoption for a teenager that ultimately was finalized after overcoming numerous obstacles and difficulties. The result was a young person who finally was able to feel the same type of organic and unconditional love from their adoptive family as most of us feel towards our own parents and children. That type of bond and stability is crucial in providing our young people with the opportunities to focus on their goals in ways that set them up for success, but also allows them to enjoy and learn from the experiences of their childhood.
Fonseca: A family Matt and I worked with adopted a youth and the adoptive parent and youth grew to have a great relationship and the youth fit right in with the family. Another positive is just how open the adoptive parent has been and continues to be with important people in the youth’s life. It is a true example of openness in adoption is positive for both the youth and the adoptive family. The adoptive parent describes gaining a second family by becoming friend with the child’s former foster parents, the youth’s maternal aunt, and the youth’s former counselor. They even spent a long weekend the week of the youth’s adoption finalization hearing and stayed at an Air BNB together.
As a veteran in adoptive services, what do you find most fulfilling about your work, and what message would you like to convey to the community about the importance of adoption?
Fonseca: The most fulfilling part of my job is finding homes for children or youth who do not have an identified family and seeing them flourish in their adoptive placement. When you see a child/sibling group fit right in with their selected adoptive family that is the best part of my job. Knowing they are being well cared for and are in a loving and nurturing environment is the best possible outcome for the children we work with every day. A lot of the adoptive families I work with are just appreciative and grateful for getting through the adoption process and getting to the finalization date.
Goodwin: Probably the most fulfilling aspect of our work, for me, is making that connection between a child and their family. Helping them find one another, and then supporting them to bring it all home. I think a poignant way to communicate this message to the community would be for them to simply consider the love and relationships they have with their own family members: children, parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, and so forth. When a child is adopted, this is what it feels like. It feels like family. It feels like home. And in my life and experience, there has never been anything more important than that.
For more information about adoption in Cuyahoga County, visit www.EveryChildNeedsFamily.com.