Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Her mission: find kids adoptive homes

'Recruiter' hired, thanks to grant from Wendy's founder's charity

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A fast-food chain is quietly helping to find "forever families" for "unadoptable" kids in Manitoba.

The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, started by the Wendy's founder, awarded a grant to the General Child and Family Services Authority to hire a full-time adoption recruiter. The recruiter spends her entire workday targeting foster children who've waited the longest for permanent homes.

"If we're going to take children into care with permanent orders, we need to make plans for these kids to find them families," said Laura Wilson. She started as a front-line child-protection worker with CFS 25 years ago. For the last 18 years, she's worked for CFS finding adoptive families for kids taken into permanent care.

Now she's dedicated to helping the kids who are toughest to find permanent homes for -- those 15 and over, with sibling groups and special needs.

'We need to make plans for older kids'

-- CFS CEO Jay Rodgers

"We need to make plans for older kids," said CFS CEO Jay Rodgers. Everyone knows how important it is for kids to grow up with a permanent, loving family, he said. For many children in care, this doesn't happen and they turn 18 without being adopted, he said.

In the next three years, 1,142 children who are permanent wards will turn 18 in Manitoba, Rodgers said.

"We may take a couple off that list," said Wilson, who has been on the job for a month and has seven referrals. She starts by reviewing the child's history -- going through their files, looking for significant relationships, their strengths and needs before meeting them and coming up with the right recruiting strategy.

Manitoba is the fifth province to receive the foundation grant to hire a recruiter, Wilson said. She said she is encouraged by stories from her allies in other provinces. One involved an Ottawa teen in care who played the harp and really wanted a music-loving family that understood her, said Wilson. The recruiter contacted the chamber orchestra.

"A woman in the orchestra came forward and said, 'Could I meet her?' " said Wilson. The musician, who never had children, hit it off with the teen harpist and adopted her.

Some teens may initially balk at being adopted, Wilson said: " 'I don't want to get into a family -- I want to be independent.' " Rather than losing independence if they're adopted, she asks them to see how they may gain loving support: "Who are you going to call at 2 a.m. when you're in a car accident?" she asks. "Who's going to be a grandparent to your kids?"

Adopting an older child isn't for everyone, Wilson said. Adoptive parents need to be flexible and go with the flow -- "someone who doesn't need their world to always go in a certain order, and a great sense of humour." There are no early-childhood bonds or memories to help get through rough patches, she said.

Most people are looking for kids under 10 to adopt, she said, and the system has been geared more to them.

"We have a great program helping younger kids," said Wilson, who has switched over to working with older kids, thanks to the grant. "This is a gift," she said.

"We'll take it," said Rodgers. It's a gift to the kids, to the child-welfare system and, in the long run, to society, he said.

Wilson cited a 2006 study comparing the outcomes of children raised in foster care with those placed for adoption.

Adopted kids are 60 per cent less likely to be "socially disconnected," 110 per cent more likely to attend post-secondary school, 54 per cent less likely to be arrested and 22 per cent more likely to participate in the labour force.

She said finding adoptive homes for older kids has been called "homelessness prevention."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 23, 2013 A15

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