When couples decide to welcome a child into their family from the foster care system, it is done so with the understanding that a child will become part of a permanent and stable unit. For so many children in the foster care system, nearly 8,000 in Massachusetts alone, the ultimate hope is to be reunited with their biological parent or extended family.
However, for approximately 1,100 of these children, returning to their birth home is no longer possible. Through MARE, the Massachusetts Adoption Resource Exchange, children who are eligible for adoption are placed with families of all shapes and sizes who will become their forever caregivers.
According to Bridget Chiaruttini, associate director of MARE, “adoptive families can be single, married, gay or straight, have experience parenting or be new parents; all kinds of families work for all kinds of kids.”
MARE finds adoptive homes for children and teens in foster care. The organization works to diligently evaluate families and is centered on a very qualitative process vs. seeking specific income levels or types of homes for children.
A commitment to the child and their well-being, along with a desire to support the child’s cultural and ethnic background is fundamental to making a good match.
“We want to honor their histories,” said Chiaruttini.
Families who have experience with children who have complex needs, academic delays or medical complications are highly sought after as well, since they bring a level of understanding and navigation support for the child. In fact, there are stipends available to assist with the inherent costs of support depending on the child’s needs.
COVID-19 has presented a number of new challenges in the adoption process — an already complicated endeavor — for many children and families. For example, in-person services such as court dates and visits with birth parents have been disrupted, the sense of routine and stability that children in foster care rely so heavily upon has disappeared, and feelings of isolation have intensified. In addition, older teens about to age-out of foster care now face a greater risk of experiencing homelessness and joblessness.
Though the pandemic has halted in-home visits and delayed some of the adoptions already in process, Chiaruttini explained that the organization has become very resourceful, using online videoconferencing to perform home visits, interviewing prospective parents, and matching children to new families.
“We have a real need for families to welcome our teenagers,” said Chiaruttini. “These are our most urgent kids; we work hard to give them a home before they age out of the foster care system.”
Children who age-out of the system, or are living in group homes, are the most vulnerable population, having nowhere to land once the state has fulfilled its obligation.
Chiaruttini said that while families or young couples seek newborns or toddlers to start their parenting journey, the biggest placement need is for children aged 8-16, though teens up to the age of 18 are in the system. Families interested in adopting from foster care should not be discouraged from starting the process now. Applications for new foster/pre-adoptive parents are still being accepted, home studies are still being completed, and matches are still being made.
New families can inquire with MARE’s Family Support Services staff about these first steps at any time, and trainings are ongoing along with home studies, again, using technology to full advantage.
One of the benefits of the push to digital interviewing has been the chance to flip the model of how the adoption process works. Traditionally, children would be featured in videos which would be reviewed by social workers to share with prospective families, but now the families are making videos which the social workers can use to find the best fit for a child.
Additionally, the technology has allowed MARE to partner beyond Massachusetts to look to New York and Long Island to expand the number of families who could be great matches for some kids. Chiaruttini said that a big goal is to keep sibling groups together when possible; brothers and sisters thriving together in new and stable homes. Sibling groups make up 40 percent of the children with an adoption goal.
The consistency of a forever home is critical to helping children not bounce around the foster system and develop roots where they can flourish.
Chiaruttini said “There are foster youth in every community, in all schools, all across our state,” explaining that the need is not just in our cities or along specific racial lines.
MARE is actively accepting applications for adoptive families and has created virtual matching events, family profile videos, and video portraits of children waiting in foster care in order to help them find the permanent family connection they need.
For more information, contact MARE at www.mareinc.org or find them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.