Every child wants a home and family to call their own, and for children in foster care, this dream can have a more unsure path. In the United States, more than 430,000 children are in foster care — more than 117,000 of whom are available for adoption. November is National Adoption Month, and Phoenix-based Arizona’s Children Association and other organizations across the country will help children and families’ dreams become reality on National Adoption Day Nov. 17, where they will be helping foster parents adopt children across the state.
Karen Wouters, program director for Foster Care and Adoption, Arizona’s Children Association (AzCA), said as one of the oldest and largest statewide comprehensive child welfare and behavioral health agencies in Arizona, AzCA provides a tailored continuum of services to more than 40,000 children and families each year in all 15 Arizona counties.
“Arizona’s Children Association supports foster and adoptive families, so they can best meet the needs of the children placed in their homes,” Wouters said. “Unfortunately, youth in foster care have experienced a significant amount of trauma through abuse or neglect and often have high needs. AzCA helps families provide loving, nurturing homes for these kids to allow them to thrive,” Wouters continued. “Our organization’s specialists visit the family and children every month, attend important meetings and court dates, provide training and help the family advocate for the team. We are also the main source for the families if they need assistance accessing services or help from other agencies.”
Twenty-two-year-old Phoenix resident Celena Wallace, an up-and-coming musician and her sister Samantha Wallace, who is pursuing a nursing degree, were adopted by their grandmother when they were 16. Wallace said being adopted impacted her positively because “my grandma took me in and treated me like I was already adopted. Her support taught me how to treat others and love unconditionally.”
AzCA’s services include foster care, adoption, therapeutic foster care and interstate placement that focus on providing quality and sensitive care to children and families. “I am proud of all aspects of our program, but what I am most proud of is our amazing staff,” Wouters said. “Our staff goes above and beyond to support our families and children, ensuring that they have all the tools needed to be successful. Each staff member truly connects with and cares for the families that come through our doors.”
The compassion and tailored care are part of how AzCA provides life-changing services. Wallace said the organization helped her and her sister stay connected with the community. “We met people who had similar circumstances and other children who were our age. Additionally, they assisted my grandma in all of the challenges she had to face when taking us into her care. They made the process easier,” Wallace said.
“Many families and children receive extensive services when they are foster families, but those services can be limited when a foster care dependency case is closed. AzCA is focused on increasing the types of support that we provide to adoptive families after their adoption has been finalized,” Wouters said. AzCA offers many services that aim to streamline the foster and adoption process and most importantly support the children and families going through that process with services such as behavioral health and trauma response, family preservation and reunification, kinship services, young adult services that include a mentorship program and family and education support.
“Obviously going through a traumatic childhood had its challenges but the real obstacles came much after I was adopted,” Wallace said. “I went to college and I struggled to connect with people my age who didn’t have the background I did. I overcame those struggles by reaching out to resources such as a program called Fostering Success.”
National Adoption Day is a chance for thousands of children to make their forever home a reality with help from organizations like AzCA—which will have staff and volunteers to help several families adopt on Nov. 17 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Durango Courthouse in Phoenix.
“It’s important to recognize and celebrate National Adoption Month because I feel like this community of people is often overlooked,” Wallace said. “Children in foster care, adopted or not, are a minority and face struggles that people don’t often recognize such as finding a stable support system, utilizing resources, facing past trauma in the form of mental health issues and more. It’s important to recognize and celebrate these issues in order to bring awareness to this community and inform the general public of what we go through.”
Wallace said she thinks making resources readily available, community outreach efforts such as volunteer work and community building could make positive impacts to increase awareness about adoption and families’ experiences.
“For many families and children, adoption means the end to the uncertainty that seems inevitable in the foster care system,” Wouters said. “National Adoption Day is a chance to celebrate the bonds that have been formed and the lifelong commitment our families are making to these children. We are honored to help provide this security and assist in the completion of these “forever families” that our children deserve.”