It’s great when people take extra initiative at their jobs.
And when it comes to getting the public to learn more about foster care and adoption, Jacqueline Ford of North Haven is at the top of the list.
Jackie is a social worker for the state Department of Children and Families. And in this, National Adoption Awareness Month, she has opened a small office on Washington Avenue in North Haven, in an effort to get more people to learn about the children statewide who need foster and adoptive families.
The office is one of several at Pop Up Shop at 84 Washington Ave., a place that rents spaces to companies or groups that need it on a temporary basis. One of Pop Up’s owners is Catherine Dubail, who adopted a baby through DCF; she is there to speak to potential foster and adoptive parents as well.
“When she was presented with the idea of a community-based center, she said she would help,” Jackie said.
The Connecticut Foster Adopt Informational Center in North Haven has been there since the beginning of the month, and people have stopped in spontaneously or attended open houses there. The open houses are at noon Fridays and 4 p.m. Sundays, through the end of the month — times that Jackie says are nontraditional that people can perhaps make to learn more about the foster care and adoption processes.
“The whole reason for being there is to offer an opportunity to learn, with no pressure, the different ways to help. We are looking for people who are willing to be a resource for a child while their families are rehabilitating to get their children back,” she said. “I want people to know there is a desperate need for resources for our teens, medically complex children and sibling groups, for foster and adoption.”
In order to become a foster parent, you have to get licensed. First, you attend an open house, and then there are background checks and assessments. Then 30 hours of training takes place over 10 weeks, and your license is good for two years. “The more families we can license, the more resources we have when a child is removed from a home. We want to be able to have lots of foster families licensed so we can best match that child with a family.”
“We have a big need for foster families to care for infants, but these are temporary arrangements,” Jackie said. The goal is always to rehabilitate a family out of poverty, neglect, substance abuse, domestic violence. The trend has been for DCF to license family members to care for children in a foster arrangement. “It’s far less disruptive” for the child to be taken care of by an aunt or grandparent, she said. DCF Commissioner Joette Katz has pushed to empower families in this way, Jackie said.
Presently, there are 14 youngsters in DCF’s Heart Gallery, which will be on display at The Children’s Museum in West Hartford through Nov. 30. They are the children in Connecticut who are waiting for adoption. Their photos and biographical summaries also are on display at Pop Up. For more, go to www.ctfosteradopt.com
If Jackie had her way, she would contact owners of vacant properties across the state and ask them if she could plaster the Heart Gallery kids across their windows, or to open small community-based offices for brief times across the state. “I would love to be able to do this statewide,” she said.
“What I would like to do statewide is be able to partner with landlords of stores that are currently vacant to allow me to use space and windows to display our literature and posters and our Heart Gallery. Even with no key. Just the window space, so people walking by can see. My vision is to find at least one storefront in a highly populated area where there is foot traffic,” she said.
Ken Mysogland, director of the Office of Foster Care and Adoption Services for DCF, said Jackie is a “tremendous asset” to DCF. “She embodies all of the values and qualities that we would want a representative from the state of Connecticut to be toward our constituents. I find her very diligent. ... She’s extremely easy to work with and has done so well.”
Further, Ken said, Jackie has brought recruitment of foster and adoptive families to a higher level.
Jackie has been with DCF for 20 years. “It’s very rewarding to see a child be nurtured and loved and feel safe,” the wife and mother of two said of foster care.
Statewide, there are 4,148 kids in foster and other care today.
“With adoption, it’s rewarding because you’re able to hope a child finds a forever family.”
Last week, 100 adopted children had the thrill of going to the five Build-A-Bear stores throughout the state to build their own as a keepsake for Adoption Awareness Month, in celebration of them finding their forever families, Jackie said.
“We talked about what it meant to be adopted and then the kids built a second bear for a foster child who is following the same journey,” said Jackie, who arranged the event.
The tag on the bear that went to the second group of children? “This bear was made especially for you by a child who knows what you’re going through.”
Anyone interested in being a resource for a child should call 1-888-KID-HERO. Anyone interested in visiting Jackie at the North Haven storefront through Nov. 30 should call 203-641-5710. People don’t have to pre-register for the open houses in North Haven. There will be a book drive for child, tween and teen books from Monday through Nov. 23, and a holiday teen gift card drive there from Nov. 26 to 30.
If you have an empty nest and a heart for a child who needs you, why not give Jackie a call?
Ann DeMatteo is the managing editor of The Middletown Press. She is waiting to hear about your inspirational story. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org