Originally published in Lavender Magazine, November 2020
November is National Adoption Month, a time to celebrate the families that have formed through adoption, and to draw awareness to the foster children still waiting right here in Minnesota.
MN ADOPT is at the forefront of adoption services in the State, and in 2020, the organization celebrates its 40th anniversary. Rachel Walstad is their Executive Director.
“Since 1980, MN ADOPT has been focused on the primary goal of ensuring that every Minnesota child grows up in a safe and nurturing family,” Walstad told Lavender.
According to Walstad, matching children to loving parents takes the work of many entities. “MN ADOPT is not a child-placing agency, but instead supports and enhances the work being done by counties, tribes and private child placing agencies throughout Minnesota.”
“We see ourselves as sort of ‘bookends’ to the adoption study and placement process,” Walstad continued. “We provide information and referrals needed on the front end to connect families to the resources needed to become adoptive or foster parents, and we support families who have children in their care through educational and support services designed to meet the unique needs of their family.”
With the exception of educational classes, MN ADOPT provides its services at no charge.
Each year, MN ADOPT connects more than 5,000 families considering adoption and foster care to organizations that are able to assist them in their journey. And through collaborative efforts, the agencies helped Minnesotans adopt 1,221 children in the foster care system in 2019.
The need for families
On any given day, more than 9,000 Minnesota children are in foster care.
“While many are able to return to their families, there are currently over 700 Minnesota children in immediate need of an adoptive family,” Walstad said.
Currently, 733 children in Minnesota have that immediate need. Of those children, a considerable 46% are 12 to 18 years old, the most of any age group. Fifty-seven percent are siblings who need to be adopted together. And 65% of the children waiting have special needs, including physical, mental, emotional or behavioral disabilities.
Of the 733 children waiting, 36% are White, 31% are Black, 25% are two or more races, 6% are American Indian, and 1% are Asian/Pacific Islander.
MN ADOPT works with media across the State to feature specific children waiting for families. Said Walstad, “One of these features is Kid Connection on Twin Cities Live, which is the successor to KSTP’s Thursday’s Child feature, which began as one of MN ADOPT’s first awareness raising features in the 1980s.”
Through Kid Connection, nearly 50% of children featured have joined an adoptive family.
The agency also has relationships with newspapers from Duluth to Minneapolis.
Adding to your family: the costs and timeline
MN ADOPT’s State Adoption Exchange (www.mnadopt.org/waiting-kids), allows those wanting to adopt the opportunity to learn about the children who need families.
Plenty of resources await. “MN ADOPT provides low or no cost adoption and foster care related workshops for families and professionals in all stages of the process,” Walstad said. “Topics are focused on the parenting needs of adoptive, foster and kinship caregivers, including attachment, trauma, and identity.”
MN ADOPT welcomes LGBTQ families who would like to become adoptive and foster parents. “There are several private and public agencies that have completed or are in the process of completing the All Children, All Families accreditation through the Human Rights Campaign,” Walstad said. “MN ADOPT completed the first Building Foundation for Inclusion benchmark this past spring and will continue to work through the remaining benchmark levels during this accreditation cycle and next year’s cycle.”
So how much does adoption cost? When you do an online search for ‘Why is adoption so expensive’, Google provides 145 million results. But it’s a perception that Walstad said isn’t always the case.
“While it is true that private adoption can be expensive, those who adopt a child from foster care in Minnesota can do so without paying any fees, provided they work through an agency contracted specifically with the Minnesota Department of Human Services for this purpose.”
Children adopted from foster care receive medical assistance to help cover medical and therapeutic expenses. Depending on their care needs, a monthly stipend, called adoption assistance, is also provided.
As for the length of the adoption process, it can vary. Walstad noted that variables include which adoption agency you work with, your speed in completing paperwork, your ability to meet with your adoption worker during business hours, and more. “Those looking to adopt who are open to sibling groups, older children and children with higher needs may experience a shorter wait,” Walstad said.
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Four decades of success
Tom Ewald and Joe Thom of Golden Valley started their adoption process on MN ADOPT’s State Adoption Exchange in 2014. Their son, Jonathon, is now 16 years old.
“The most rewarding part of being a father is watching how kids develop socially and emotionally and having a part in that, which is a big responsibility for any parent,” Thom said.
Adoption came with its unknowns, too. Ewald reflected on the most challenging part of the adoption process.
“It was preparing for the needs of a child that you haven’t met. There are universals in parenting and in trauma, but each kid is an individual and so learning how to be a good parent for them is difficult in advance. That’s where MN ADOPT is helpful. They provide post-adoption resources to help you best become a family and to become the best parents you can be.”
How COVID-19 impacted this important work
“This has definitely been a unique year, and the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted our focus and energy in so many ways,” Walstad mentioned.
The agency made adjustments to make sure their services best met the needs of families and that staff had the resources necessary to work remotely.
“Because we are primarily funded through the Department of Human Services, we have thus far not suffered a large financial impact due to COVID-19,” Walstad said. “One area where we have seen a negative impact is through individual contributions, which is understandable given the job insecurity experienced by so many in our community right now.”
MN ADOPT’s annual celebration, Circus of the Heart, changed from a one-day event attracting 1,000 people, to a three week virtual celebration in November. You can go to www.mnadopt.org to learn how you can participate.
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Supporting all families
It takes the entire community to support MN ADOPT, and in particular, the families who are looking to adopt.
“A strong support system is really important for those who adopt from foster care,” Walstad said. “This support can take many forms, from providing meals, helping with rides to appointments, helping with childcare so parents can have a break, educating yourself about adoption-related topics, and just listening and being a source of emotional support.”
Whether you are on the journey to adopt, or know someone looking to adopt, your support is necessary to help strengthen our community.
Note: Mike is a former Twin Cities Live producer.
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