When Missouri residents Scott and Ning Haluck decided to become foster parents a couple years ago, they heard about trainings offered by FosterAdopt Connect, a nonprofit that started as a small support group in 1998 and has evolved into a statewide network of support and resources for foster and adoptive families.
Last year, the Halucks started foster parent training through the organization, which the two said was a great experience. But it wasn’t until after they had a sister and brother sibling set placed in their home, and the process to adoption started, that they really leaned on all FosterAdopt Connect had to offer.
“We really benefit from an adoptive family resource advocate,” Ning Haluck said. “We had to advocate for what we wanted for our kids. As new foster parents, we didn’t know.”
Parents to biological children, the Halucks were ready to add more children to their lives, especially since Scott is a high school teacher and Ning a pediatrician. But the children, who the Halucks met through volunteering with a local organization, were older and had been in foster care awhile. Both receive mental health therapy and one child, occupational therapy.
Being able to talk with mentors from FosterAdopt Connect helped them understand their children better and allowed them to bounce questions and struggles off of more seasoned foster parents.
“They are like the lighthouse while we’re on a stormy sea,” Ning said. “It makes all the little daily struggles bearable.”
And while learning how to parent two older children was one thing, learning how to navigate the child welfare system was entirely another. As they headed down the path of adoption for one child, questions about how the legal system worked cropped up, as did the need to really advocate for a monthly subsidy, services and resources.
With a network of seasoned foster parents, FosterAdopt Connect is there to meet a variety of needs for foster and adoptive parents, from a food pantry and clothes closet to creating an in-home behavioral intervention program based on the work of Bruce Perry, a psychiatrist specializing in neurodevelopmental research with children who’ve experienced trauma.
FosterAdopt Connect president Lori Ross knows how it feels to be in the Halucks’ shoes as new foster/adoptive parents. More than 30 years ago, she was in the same place. A new foster parent with few resources, she and about 20 families created a support group, which officially became the Midwest Foster Care and Adoption Association before recently being rebranded as FosterAdopt Connect.
“We wanted to focus on filling gaps in the system that helps lead to good outcomes for kids,” Ross said. “When we started this, we had a narrow view of the work. We determined what were the burdens we could lift to make things easier.”
In the beginning that meant creating a food pantry and clothes closet to meet more tangible needs. Today it includes providing mentorship and hands-on services to families that help lighten the burdens of families as they parent children who have experienced early life trauma and challenges.
One of the biggest gaps the organization attempts to fill is post-adoption support, recognizing that a child may no longer be part of the child welfare system, but the impacts of growing up in the system and early childhood traumas last a lifetime.
“The kids that we are adopting have experienced trauma and as a result of that have special needs,” Ross said. “Living in a loving, stable environment doesn’t fix it.”
Ross said she has seen too many families struggle to meet the unique needs of the children who join their families. Having experienced early childhood traumas, being abused and neglected and bouncing through the foster care system, most families aren’t prepared for the behaviors and challenges many of the children present.
“When I first started fostering the only thing anyone could offer was training,” Ross said. “I actually needed extra hands, feet and eyes. I physically cannot do this by myself.”
With that in mind, Ross created the most rigorous model of support she could think of: bringing individuals educated in trauma-informed care into families’ homes to provide the help and support they need on a day-to-day basis.
“We’re now using it in foster homes to help with stability,” Ross said. “It has made a huge difference for our kids and families.”
With the introduction of the Behavioral Interventionist Model, fewer children are entering residential treatment centers in the state, Ross said. There’s roughly 170 children being served by the program through two different organizations, one of which is FosterAdopt Connect. This program and all of the others that FosterAdopt Connect offer are key to helping families stay strong and intact, Ross said.
FosterAdopt Connect’s funding currently comes in part from Title IV-E, a federal entitlement for foster care and adoption, and from funds Missouri receives through the federal adoption incentive program. Ross expects to benefit from the recent passage of the Family First Prevention Services Act, a new reform of IV-E — she’s already looking into how the Behavioral Interventionist Model can gain evidence-based status to qualify under Family First guidelines.
Not all states have as robust post-adoption supports, or organizations that see to it that foster and adoptive parents have all the tools they need like FosterAdopt Connect provides in Missouri.
But since the passage of Preventing Sex Trafficking and Improving Opportunities for Youth in Foster Care Act in 2014, all states have been required to spend no less than 30 percent of their federal adoption incentives on post-adoption services. They have also been expected to spend the savings from greater federal payments for adoption subsidies on post-adoption supports; the Government Accountability Office will soon conduct a study to ensure that is happening.
North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC) Program Manager Kim Stevens says post-adoption supports are critical to stabilizing new families. The most important part of that comes in not feeling alone and having others to talk to about the realities of raising children who’ve experienced intense trauma.
“Parents struggling will find some of the most valuable support is another parent who has been through a similar situation and has come out on the other side,” said Kim Stevens. “It’s a different kind of parenting and you can’t do it without support.”
Beyond that, the cost of raising children and meeting specialized needs for children adopted from foster care can be a challenge for families. Fortunately, when children are adopted from the foster care system they take with them a few of the services that they’ve been receiving. Most often, they still receive Medicaid services through the state they are adopted from and the children are eligible for adoption assistance or subsidy. The subsidy amount is similar to the monthly reimbursement amount foster parents receive to care for a child and is determined by the state what the amount will be There are no federal subsidy requirements..
It is provided to help families provide medical care, mental health counseling, and specialized equipment needed to care for children with special needs or other supports to help raise the child to adulthood.
“For a lot of families having that little bit of money can help families provide a home for a child,” Stevens said. “Adoption subsidy provides you access to the other services. Foster reimbursement and subsidy don’t even come close to what it costs to care for a child.”
For the Halucks, the adoption subsidy is a safety net for their adoptive children, allowing them to easily address any of the challenges that may come up over the years.
“Knowing the subsidy is there allows us to be less stressed out when something pops up,” Scott Haluck said. “With our bio kids we can more easily plan for things like college.”
For their foster and adopted children, who came to their family at a later age, the subsidy helps to think about college in the future and provide therapy that their biological children just haven’t needed at this point. So far, the Halucks feel like they’ve been fortunate to find FosterAdopt Connect to help them access resources and connect with others who are on a similar path, something that NACAC’s Stevens says is critical for all foster and adoptive families.
“Unless you have the supports around you it can be a really lonely and difficult journey,” Stevens said. “More than anything, foster and adoptive families need each other to normalize the experience.”