As 2023 winds down our staff at America’s Kids Belong reflected on personal highlights from the past year in our efforts to improve the experiences and outcomes for kids in foster care. Here’s a quick recap by state.
California – It’s been very rewarding to see some of the kids we’ve been recruiting for more than a year get into matches, stay in them and move toward adoption. One young man, Angel, was at the very first I Belong Project shoot in 2020. He came back this year to be filmed again, which is a tough thing to do. But this time within a week a young couple came forward who has proven to be relentless in advocating for him. He is excelling in school now and is getting involved in sports. “So much healing is happening for him,” State Manager Connie Lannom said. “Angel finding a family who fights for him is something to celebrate. And more broadly, even with a bunch of failed placements, we keep recruiting and keep fighting so more kids like Angel can go home to families.”
Colorado – As our vision for Foster Friendly grew, the Colorado team hosted Foster Friendly Windsor, Mayor Paul Rennemeyer issued a proclamation and joined our team in canvassing businesses up and down Main Street to invite them to join the Foster Friendly App with an offer to support local foster families. “It was cool to see the mayor’s involvement and the energy. The energy of that day spurred us on to imagine what Foster Friendly could look like here in Colorado next year,” State Director Tracee Rudd said.
Georgia – On November 1 Georgia hosted a first-of-its-kind event called Acworth Cares. The evening brought together Mayor Tommy Allegood, Acworth foster families and area businesses. The mayor honored the foster families. (Watch a video of the mayor speaking about Foster Friendly here.) Families received gifts from Foster Friendly restaurants and businesses. Some families participated in a panel discussion to help recruit others to consider fostering. All the food for the event was donated by Foster Friendly restaurants. “It was a really special night,” according to State Manager Rebecca Radicchi. “We have big dreams to take this program on the road next year.”
Indiana – At an I Belong Project video shoot in December a foster family brought the two kids in their care, a boy and girl. As the mom watched the kids be filmed and share their ideas about the kind of family they wanted, she realized she didn’t want to let them go to another family. It became really real to her in that moment., and she thought, “They’re going to be our family.” That family is continuing to foster and accepted another placement, even as they pursue adoption of these two. “We often don’t get to see what happens with the kids we serve, so to witness this story was really cool,” Laura Mobley, state manager, said.
Kansas – “it was really special to see the trust and rapport that we’ve built with our state partner, Adopt Kansas Kids, enable us to offer special experiences at our IBP shoots this year, including fishing, paddle boarding, rock climbing, roasted s’mores, hay rides and even a giant bunny,” State Manager Lacy Paredes said. Not only are the kids getting videos to will help them adoptive families, they’re also enjoying a fun, therapeutic and memorable day. “One of our fishing guides was so moved by the kids and their stories that he made a donation the following day,” she added.
Kentucky – Ellen Greeley, the state’s I Belong Project manager, shared a personal side to her involvement in the mission. After volunteering at her first I Belong Project shoot two years ago., she happened to share the work she was doing and some of the videos with her brother and sister-in-law. “A week later I got a call from my sister-in-law who said they felt called to pursue a boy whose video they saw on one of those videos,” Greely explained. “They were not licensed at that point, and they were out-of state, but I eventually had the opportunity to celebrate a successful adoption with them!”
South Dakota – In beginning of October the South Dakota team hosted a gala in Rapid City that was attended by Governor Kristi Noem, Lt Gov Larry Rhoden and the newly elected mayor of Rapid City, Jason Salamun, along with local pastors and business owners. This governmental and community support has led to the highest foster parent count in Rapid City’s history. “We look forward to a deeper dive in 2024 with more mayoral initiatives,” according to South Dakota team member, Catlin Young.
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Tennessee – One of the teen boys filmed at an I Belong Project shoot, JT, went viral while being recruited for on social media. “It was the first time we had ever had anything like that happen,” Executive Director Kristin Allender said. With many of the inquiries from out-of-state families who were not licensed to foster, the team pivoted and stepped up efforts among current foster families in Tennessee. The result? JT is doing well; he recently stepped down from a residential facility into a foster family and child welfare is sorting through multiple leads for a potential adoptive family.
Virginia – Virginia’s Kids Belong hosted legislative listening sessions for the first time. They created four forums for legislators to hear from foster and kinship parents, community advocates, faith leaders and other stakeholders in the foster care system. They shared first-hand experiences and thoughts about the issues they face. Legislators also heard from former foster youth about what it means to them to be notified on their 18th birthdays that they could be homeless unless they followed certain requirements. “Faith, business and government coming together in the same room in the name of foster care is a remarkable milestone,” Chief Operations Officer Karen Parsons said. “It recognizes that everyone has a voice in this. Our final product will be a report we are doing on the new ideas put forward during these sessions.”
Nationwide America’s Kids Belong chapters have produced more than 500 videos through the I Belong Project to help adoption-eligible kids in foster care find families, and more than 300 kids have been matched.
In its Foster Friendly initiative, the Foster Friendly App has surpassed 10,000 registered users, nearly doubling over the previous year, and AKB is preparing to expand into a new market with Foster Friendly, an exciting innovation for expanding our reach and support to foster families.