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Ampersand Families launching new initiative in 2017

Posted on 10 January 2017 by Calvin

Ampersand Families is Minnesota’s only private, non-profit adoption agency whose work is focused entirely on moving older kids (10+ years) from the foster care system into adoptive families. Their offices are tucked quietly behind University Ave. near the juncture with Hwy 280, at 2515 Wabash Ave., but their 10-person staff is anything but quiet about the work they do there.

ampersand-families-07Photo right: As of September 2016, 866 children were under the guardianship of the state of Minnesota. Of those children, 489 were in need of immediate adoptive homes; 377 have already been placed in pre-adoptive homes, meaning that they live with relatives or families who plan to adopt them. These are the faces of some of the youth Ampersand Families serves. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

In 2016, 35 Minnesota kids were placed in adoptive families or had their adoptions finalized with help from Ampersand Families. That number is more significant than it appears at first glance, because older kids are the hardest to place. They have often been living in foster care, group homes or residential treatment facilities for years.

Program Director Misty Coonce said, “Ampersand Families was co-created by our executive director Michelle Chalmers in 2008, based on the belief that adoption from foster care is more likely to succeed if adoptive families receive informed post-placement support.”

“We are a resource for youth, families, and professionals,” Coonce said. “We believe that to heal from the trauma of separation from their families of origin, young people need to build strong relationships with adults who care. Our organization is unique in our unconditional support of the adoptive families we help to create, for as long as they need it and at no cost to them.”

Toward that end, Ampersand Families is launching a new post-adoption initiative called Buddy Families. This is a volunteer opportunity for individuals, couples or families to provide respite for adoptive parents one weekend and a couple of evenings each month by bringing the adopted child into their home.

Kids who have been adopted out of the foster care system either have no parents or they have parents whose parental rights have been terminated. Before any child under the age of 18 is considered legally free for adoption, the state has to complete an extensive search for relatives. Adoption becomes the next best option if no relatives are found or come forward on their own.

In a way, the buddy family is filling the role of extended family: providing the same kind of support that an aunt or uncle would for a niece or nephew.

What is required to become a buddy family? Contact Coonce at misty@ampersandfamilies.org to arrange an initial one-hour consultation with a staff person. An overview of the child welfare, child protection, and foster care systems will be given. All interested persons must understand that being a buddy family means working with kids ten years of age and older. It is crucial that they enjoy spending time with teenagers.

The next step is to register for the upcoming adoptive family training to at Ampersand Families on Sat., Jan. 28, 9am-6pm, and on Wed., Feb. 1 and Wed., Feb. 15 from 5:30-9pm.

Coonce was quick to point out that, “Buddy families are just regular people in the community who recognize how important it is for these adoptions from the foster care system to work. More adoptions fail in this state than we would wish. We’re actively trying to keep that from happening by developing our Buddy Family Program, and by providing a host of other post-placement support services for adoptive families.”

ampersand-families-01Photo left: Ampersand means “and” and is represented by the symbol “&”. Adoptive families, and those who support them, are not replacing the families that adopted children came from—they are in addition to those families. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

The cost of adoption placement for a child through Ampersand Families is about $45,000–but, that cost is born by public and private funds and not by adopting families. Families who adopt a child, teen or sibling group out of foster care in Minnesota have virtually NO expenses, and there is on-going monthly adoption assistance to families adopting in this way.

While $45,000 paid by public and other sources might seem high, consider the alternative. $300,000 is the estimated lifetime cost to a community for each teen who “ages out” of the foster care system without finding a permanent home. That young person is at much higher risk for becoming homeless, pregnant, substance addicted, struggling with mental and/or physical health issues, and becoming involved with the criminal justice system as either a victim or an offender—and the financial cost doesn’t begin to measure the opportunity that is lost to the child.

Ampersand Families extends the same welcome to prospective buddy families as it does to prospective adoptive families: individuals and couples, gay and straight, all religions or none at all, and persons of any racial or ethnic background are encouraged apply.

“Every child should be able to have an unconditional, permanent, and loving relationship with an adult or adults who are not their paid service providers,” Coonce concluded.

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