By Kelly Medinger
Adoptions Together uses human services grant to help foster children in Baltimore City find permanent connections as they age out of the system
Turning 18 is a rite of passage for any young person, but it can be especially perilous for those in foster care.
“Studies show that kids aging out of foster care without a permanent point of contact are much more likely to end up homeless within 18 months, have interactions with the justice system, face lower job prospects, and have fewer future educational opportunities,” shares Jeanette Stoltzfus, Manager of Corporate and Foundation Relations.
Adoptions Together and the Family Find Program
With a mission to build healthy, lifelong connections between children and families, Adoptions Together launched a program in 2011 to connect youth in Baltimore City aging out of foster care to a permanent relationship. The program, called Family Find Step Down, intersects the fields of social work, law enforcement, and investigations to produce the best result for a child.
“Every person needs someone to celebrate a holiday with and someone who will support them when they need it,” Stoltzfus explains. Adoptions Together begins that search by asking the child who they want that person to be. Sometimes it is a family member, and sometimes it is a teacher, a mentor, or a friend. For children who have been in the foster system for a long time, locating that person can be time consuming.
The Process of Finding People
Enter Dana Smoot, retired Maryland State trooper and criminal investigator. Through a grant from the Knott Foundation, Smoot was brought on to launch an “extreme recruitment” program where Adoptions Together works with Baltimore City Department of Social Services to link foster children to lifelong family connections.
“Basically, my job is to find people,” Smoot says. “While social workers provide direct services to children and families and law enforcement officers are out on the street, I am at my desk and able to devote my time to being analytical and persistent in locating the right people.” Smoot then passes along contact information of the people she has found to social workers who begin the process of engagement and building a permanent connection for the youth in care.
Her work has paid off. During the year-long grant period, Smoot conducted more than 2,300 searches and provided more than 300 prospective leads to child welfare professionals, which eventually helped to link 50 foster youth to a healthy, lifelong connection. After the Foundation’s funding expired, Adoptions Together, Baltimore City Department of Social Services, and the State of Maryland all recognized the benefits of the position and agreed to invest in the Family Find Step Down program.
Seventeen-year-old Daryl entered foster care at age two and is one of Adoptions Together’s clients. Daryl longed to connect with his birth family but didn’t know much about them, much less how to find them. Using a variety of medical records, court documents, and private and public databases, Smoot located Daryl’s mother and three of his siblings. Since then, Daryl and his mother are in weekly phone contact.
Daryl turns 18 soon and is lucky to have a new family to celebrate holidays with: his own.