Finding a family: Cincinnati agency now certified to place children in permanent homes

CINCINNATI - Madison Walton was seven years old when she first felt like a part of Gina and Kurtz Walton’s family. The couple began fostering Madison and her twin brother, Morgan, when they were four, but it was only when Gina Walton asked the twins how they felt about being adopted that Madison began to truly feel at home.

Madison, now 11, said the idea of being adopted scared her at first.

“Then, I realized I had a family who loved me and cared about me,” she said.

"A lengthy process"

About 850 children in Cincinnati are in out-of-home care, said Jami Clarke, program director of foster care and adoption for Lighthouse Youth Services. Out-of-home care includes group homes and residential living, but the majority of cases are children in foster care.

Foster care is a temporary placement with a family while a child is waiting to achieve permanency status. Permanency can be reunification with biological parents or adoption. Biological parents are given multiple court appeals, in an attempt to provide every possible opportunity for reunification with their children.

“(Achieving permanency) can be a lengthy process. It takes anywhere from two to four years,” Clarke said.

Adoption certification

Lighthouse Youth Services has been in existence since 1969, providing residential care, corrections programs and foster care services. While Lighthouse representatives have helped arrange temporary care for youths for more than 40 years, the organization was not certified as an adoption agency until this year, when Lighthouse achieved certification as a foster to adopt agency.

This means the agency can license caregivers to adopt as well as to foster. Now Lighthouse can help children achieve permanency more quickly, Clarke said.

Since Lighthouse became a foster to adopt agency, numerous families have been dually certified, she said. Of the 196 children receiving care through Lighthouse, 14 are expected to be adopted in the next two months.

National Adoption Month

While many parents are achieving dual licensure through Lighthouse, more foster and adoptive families are always needed, Clarke said.

“There’s more children out there, than we have families,” she said.

One way of informing community members of the need is by celebrating National Adoption Month.

According to the Children’s Bureau (part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services):

  • National Adoption Month began as an Adoption Week in 1976. 
  • Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis announced the celebration as a way to promote the need for adoptive families for children in foster care. 
  • In 1984, President Ronald Reagan proclaimed the first National Adoption Week.
  • In 1995, the week long event was extended to one month by President Bill Clinton.

Taking steps toward adopting

Dumeta Colegrove and her husband, Jon, knew they wanted to become foster parents since 2006, when the murder of foster child Marcus Fiesel was covered widely in local news.

“When that hit the paper, it was just heavy on my heart that I knew we needed to do something to make a difference,” Dumeta Colegrove said.

The Colegroves have two biological children who were in high school and college respectively. In early 2012, with their children raised, the couple began “dabbling” in pre-service training classes, Colegrove said.

The classes are three- to four-hour training sessions that cover topics like abuse, neglect, discipline, behavior management and permanency. Prior to licensure, prospective foster parents must attend 12 pre-service training classes.

Before Colegrove knew it, she and her husband had completed the classes and had their license. They welcomed their first foster child in March 2012. The placement only lasted a couple weeks.

In April 2012, the Colegroves began fostering two siblings. The children originally were expected to be reunited with their biological parents. More than a year and a half later, they are still with the Colegroves, who are now planning to adopt them.

Next page: Who can foster or adopt?

Foster to adopt

An ideal situation for children who cannot reunify with their biological parents is to be adopted by caring foster families they are already with, Clarke said. Each time a child is placed with a new foster family, he or she must get to know the caregivers and learn to trust them. Foster children also tend to experience distress from abuse, neglect and separation from their biological parent.

“They have separation anxiety every time they go for a visit and then have to leave. There’s not a clear understanding, depending upon the age, especially, as to what’s going to happen next. So, they have a lot of unknowns in their lives,” Clarke said.

The children are not the only ones affected if they do not achieve permanency. After two or three years of fostering Madison and Morgan, it would have been difficult to let them go, Gina Walton said.

“They become a part of your home and your family,” Kurtz Walton added.

Because the children are already matched with families who have shown a commitment to caring for them, the adoption process is quicker and easier for those already fostering than those who have not, Clarke said.

For the Waltons, the transition from fostering to adoption required some paperwork, a talk with Madison and Morgan, and going before a judge with their case.

Gina and Kurtz Waltons also have a foster daughter, who has been with them for about a year and a half. They hope to adopt her as well.

Who can foster or adopt?

To be a foster or adoptive parent, one must:

  • Be at least 21
  • Have a bedroom for the child (can be a shared room with another child)
  • Prove financial stability
  • Complete 44 hours of training
  • Foster and adoptive parents can be single or married, and there is no maximum age limit.

The state-mandated training sessions offered through Lighthouse are the same for prospective foster and adoptive parents. One additional session is required for those seeking adoptive licensing. The class is offered once every two months, Clarke said.

To learn more about fostering and adoption:

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