LEXINGTON, Ky. (Nov. 9, 2010) — There are 830 children in out-of-home care who are available for and awaiting public adoption; 357 of them do not have an identified adoptive family. Almost 1,800 children who cannot be reunited with families due to abuse, neglect and other safety and welfare issues have the goal of adoption according to the University of Kentucky College of Social Work’s Adoption Support for Kentucky (ASK).
The award-winning adoption support program, formed in 2002, is in the limelight once again, as the organization was recently awarded a 2010 Adoption Excellence Award from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for its "extraordinary contributions in providing adoption and other permanency outcomes for children in foster care."
ASK Director Carrie Saunders, who was initially shocked at the announcement, received the Adoption Excellence Award on Oct. 4 in Arlington, Va. and was back to work in Lexington before the ink on the official document was dry.
National awards are important, but ASK's mission remains the same.
Saunders grew up with adopted siblings herself and knows how important ASK's support is. Adoptive families serve a vital role in permanency planning to protect the best interests of adoptive children, often making tremendous sacrifices.
"We've always listened to what adoptive parents said they needed," she said. "We have dedicated people involved with ASK who are passionate about the program."
The Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services’ Department for Community Based Services Adoption Services Branch Manager Mike Grimes and his team nominated ASK for the national award.
"Participants embraced [ASK's] mentoring and support with enthusiasm, fueling the creation of parent-led support groups throughout the state," he said in his nomination letter. "Whether at the initial stage of adoption interest or far past finalization, ASK has created an all inclusive setting to fortify families who have generously opened their homes to deserving children."
ASK utilizes a comprehensive approach when developing support methods, which include phone calls, emails and face to face meetings. Participants are offered information on policies and procedures; education and on-going training; a lending library and access to statewide resources.
"Our adoptive parent leaders, some who have remained foster parents themselves, are incredibly committed to ASK and are always available to help," said Saunders. "Most people in the state can get to a support group within an hour from their home," Saunders said.
Families whose children face overwhelming medical or behavioral issues can turn to ASK for the most current information and advocacy while benefiting from the collective knowledge and support of the groups. To further enhance its services to families, ASK meetings also qualify as on-going training hours necessary for families to continue providing foster care.
ASK's mission directly coincides with November's National Adoption Month focus.
This year's initiative targets adoption professionals by concentrating on ways to recruit and retain parents for the 115,000 children and youth in foster care waiting for adoptive families. ASK's programming plays an essential role in supporting and retaining these families.
The bottom line is that resource parents need help. "It's hard to find training and support, but the biggest thing is childcare," explained Saunders. "ASK provides that as well, so parents can take the time to gain the support and training they need."
Formed in 2002, ASK is the only support group of its kind in Kentucky. The goal of ASK is to encourage adoption retention by identifying and addressing the challenges of adoptive families.
The program began with 11 adoptive parent leaders who aimed to unify and support families. Within one year, the success of ASK was evident and soon after, sixteen leaders were in place providing over 190 groups.
"We pay our parents for 20 hours a week, but they give us so much more," said Saunders. "And we don’t have much of a turnover rate. They love their jobs."
In 2007, a collaborative effort between College of Social Work faculty and staff led to a study to determine the program's effectiveness. The study concluded that ASK is helpful in providing current information on adoption policies, providing emotional support, information exchange and helping to avoid adoption disruptions. Adoption Support for Kentucky has experienced tremendous success and has grown considerably from 981 support group attendees in 2003 to nearly 4,100 in 2010.
ASK currently conducts 362 support groups yearly and to date has welcomed over 18,000 attendees to various groups and trainings. ASK and Saunders have been recognized for their exceptional achievements in supporting families with state and national awards, including Saunders’ Award of Excellence in 2006, the Betty Triplett Award in 2008 and the 2010 "Parent Group of the Year" award by the North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC).
"The Training Resource Center is so excited that ASK received the 2010 Adoption Excellence Award," said TRC Associate Director Jessica Day Fletcher. "It is the hard work and commitment of Carrie Saunders, Seth Krusich and the adoptive parent liaisons that made this award possible. It is well deserved recognition of the tremendous support and training this program provides to adoptive parents and those considering adoption."
The United States Department of Health and Human Services established the Adoption Excellence Awards program in 1997 to recognize outstanding accomplishments in achieving permanency for America’s children waiting in foster care.
The awards recognize outstanding accomplishments in achieving permanency for America's children waiting in foster care. The Adoption Excellence Awards honor States, local agencies, private organizations, courts, businesses, individuals and families who are making key contributions to increasing the number of children from the foster care system who are adopted or placed in other permanent homes.