By: Katie Sobiech
Every minute of every day there are countless children without families to call their own. There are thousands of children in Ohio and more than 100,000 in the United States who are in the foster care system. As they await their fate, to find whether or not they will ever have a family to call their own, it can become extremely discouraging.
The Waiting Child Fund (WCF), founded by Directors Mike Kenney and Shannon Deinhart, is a 501c3 non profit organization that focuses on placing harder-to-place school-age children. These are the children who have waited the longest to be adopted and are at risk for aging out of the foster care system without a family.
The WCF sees it as vital to find loving homes for these children. Daily, they pour their passion into finding families for these children by raising funds for each child, then using those funds to pay for specialized adoption services for him or her. They work until a family is found for each child; which isn’t an easy task.
A Bigger Need
The WCF is a relatively small organization which began with two individuals passionate about finding homes for children without families.
“My partner Shannon and I got our start after working at a special needs adoption agency for five years. During that time we saw a bigger need. A need for more collaborations and partnerships on behalf of our kids, and a need for more funding,” Kenney said.
Though they are not a Direct Service Agency, placing the children into homes, they do facilitate partnerships, raise money, and help other agencies work on behalf of the most challenging children to place.
WCF was officially launched in Summit County in 2007.
What Makes Them Different
The WCF is unique from other organizations in that they seek to find homes for the most difficult children to place, or those with “special needs”.
“The majority of challenges that our kids have are developmental, cognitive, emotional and behavioral, and they face these challenges because of the abuse and neglect that they were victims of. These children weren’t born with these challenges, they had them inflicted as a result of being victims,” Kenney explained.
Along with placing special needs children, the WCF focuses on placing older children, or teens, before they emancipate from the system. With the inability to make wise decisions, these children often “hit the door running” when they turn 18.
“Physically they are 18 years old, but developmentally they’re probably functioning at a 12-13 year old level. A national statistic says that 70% of kids who emancipate – who age out of the system – end up homeless, incarcerated or in a mental health facility,” Kenney stated.
Children who age out of foster care have a 50% chance of graduating high school, a 25% chance of becoming homeless, and 1 in 4 boys will spend time in jail (www.waitingchildfund.org).
“They go running but then realize ‘Ah, I’m not prepared for this’, but unfortunately it can be very hard once they are in that place because they’ve now emancipated and are in the adult system,” Kenney continued.
Transforming Children’s Lives
“Shannon comes from a social work background, so she is really passionate about our kids,” Kenney said, “When you meet our kids it’s really hard to turn your back on them. These kids have been through more in their short lives than anyone should ever experience. For me, what keeps me going and where my passion comes from is that these kids can go through the most amazing transformation when they’re adopted.”
“Their case files can be 2 feet tall, literally, but all of that paper means nothing when you get them in the stability of a family and they start to overcome all of these diagnoses and labels that have been put on them, because they can let their guard down and heal. Our kids are never going to heal until you get them into the stability of a family. As long as they continue to bounce from foster to residential home, foster to residential, their issues are compounding.”
Community and Collaboration
The WCF has four partner agencies with children in their permanent custody. These include Northeast Ohio Adoption Services, Beach Brook, Caring for Kids, and Christian Children’s Home of Ohio.
“Summit County has a really rich, strong foundation funding community,” Kenney said of the generosity of the area.
At the end of 2008, the WCF received grant money from the both the GAR and Akron Community Foundations to look at what types of programs are working on a larger scale in other counties and states.
“We want to find ‘How is this working in other places?’” Kenney said.
They spent all of last year conducting research and planning, and just launched a new program, The Summit Permanency Collaborative.
“This has increased our partnership with Summit County Children Services and evolved our model. I think that was made possible because those providing the funds said ‘Let’s look at this on a larger scale. How can we have a bigger, deeper impact?’” Kenney said.
After much research the WCF found what a great impact finding permanency, or permanent, adoptive homes, for children can have. Because of this great need their focus has shifted onto finding permanent homes for their children, over temporary homes, before they age out of the system.
Coffee for a Good Cause
The WCF has also teamed up with Solstice Roasters, a coffee company in Cleveland. Rick Sheehan, the owner and operator who has been in the business for over 15 years believes strongly in adoption and partnered up with the WCF because of this. Sheehan and his wife have two adopted children of their own.
Now, the WCF gives all coffee proceeds directly to their fund.
If you don’t feel called to adopt there are other ways to help these children, including buying coffee. You can help sponsor a child so that he or she may find a family. Visit the WCF website today to see some of the faces that are waiting for a home. You can view their pictures, read their profiles, and conveniently click the “Donate” button to help a child out right now. These children are waiting.
For more information please visit “http://www.waitingchildfund.org” http://www.waitingchildfund.org. Also, don’t miss the 5th Annual “FUNraiser”, Casino Royale, which will benefit the Waiting Child Fund.