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Finding homes

Published 8:33pm Saturday, August 17, 2013

Social workers help connect families, children

Eleanor Butts works in the foster care system, but even she admits it was a little intimidating to be on the other side.

As the family services supervisor for foster care in the Suffolk Department of Social Services, she has walked many families through the foster care and adoption processes.

But when she adopted her own children more than 30 years ago, it was different.

“It was a different experience being an adoption worker and an adoptive parent,” she said. “It’s been a rewarding experience.”

Butts, who didn’t have biological children, now has eight grandchildren.

However, not all children up for adoption are as lucky as Butts’ children.

A statewide campaign, promoted by Gov. Bob McDonnell, to adopt at least 1,000 children out of the foster care system has found some success, with 587 having been adopted thus far this year, said LaTonya Brown, family services supervisor of the safe and stable families team in the Suffolk Department of Social Services.

However, none of those was one of the three children available for adoption in Suffolk. Social services workers are holding out hope.

“I do think with the governor’s event, we have seen increased interest,” Brown said.

Currently in Suffolk, an 11-year-old boy, 14-year-old girl and 17-year-old boy are available for adoption. It bears out the conventional wisdom that older children are harder to place, but Butts said the department has had success placing teens in the past.

“Teens are harder to place, and sibling groups as well,” she said, noting that two years ago the department placed a group of three siblings with the same adoptive family. “Across the state, we still have success with placing older teens. We just don’t have a lot of kids up for adoption anymore. We always have low numbers, because our population in general is low.”

Butts said the department focuses on being able to reunite children with their parents. When that isn’t possible, they look to place them with another relative.

“We have to make diligent efforts to keep them with families,” she said. “Our first efforts are towards reunification.”

When it isn’t possible to have a child live with family members, they go into foster care. That’s often where they are when the adoption process starts.

“Children have to have a sense of belonging,” Butts said. “In foster care, they have people that will love and care for them, but for most people there’s nothing like being with your own family. We want the permanency that being with a family provides.”

Many children are adopted by their foster families. For those who aren’t, the path to adoption for a potential adoptive family includes an extensive home study, help matching with a child, supervised visits and overnight visits. Children 12 or older must consent to being adopted.

“We provide support both to the family and to the child,” Butts said.

The Suffolk Department of Social Services can also help facilitate adoptions anywhere in America if the child or the adoptive family lives in Suffolk.

“We work across state lines,” Butts said. “We try to do this as expeditiously as possible.”

The Suffolk Department of Social Services will have a local event Sept. 30 to promote adoption. Watch the Suffolk News-Herald’s calendar for more information.

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