By Maureen Smith
JACKSON – Adoptive and foster parents, as well as teenagers in foster care, have a new resource at their disposal thanks to the work from a team at Catholic Charities. Staff members in adoption services used a grant from the Mississippi Department of Human Services to create a website packed full of resources and educational opportunities. The staff is also taking the resources on the road, offering continuing education workshops to foster parents across the state.
Angela Griffin, the program director for adoption services, said when her agency got the grant to develop an online resource for adoptive and foster parents, she and her co-workers thought it would be a one-page site. “There were not any strict guidelines as to how to develop this, so we started brainstorming,” Griffin explained. Before long, she and her co-workers had lots of ideas, but needed some direction.
Rachel Hodges, a senior from Jackson State University, started an internship with Catholic Charities in December, 2014. The rest of the team members credit her with bringing a new energy and focus to the project. In addition to helping get everything organized and launched, she created some of the online evaluation materials.
“I had the opportunity to create the tests for the CEU (continuing education credit) materials,” said Hodges. She used five different texts creating a quiz for each. “I learned a lot for myself that I can use in future parenting situations,” she added.
Ben Garrott, technology director for the agency said it quickly became apparent the ‘page’ could be its own website. “It just kept growing and growing,” he joked, adding that once the team came up with a template, colors and a structure, building it was easy.
Griffin said her team did not have to create a lot of new materials. “The resources were out there. This was just a matter of putting it together in one place,” Griffin explained. She has 15 years of experience in adoption and foster care. Her co-worker, Stephanie Harris, has 25. That expertise helped them narrow down what offerings were important, relevant and needed. “Knowing what families want and need in terms of resources and knowing how adoptions are handled helps.” Both women said input from families who are caring for foster or adopted children is important to the resource site.
The site has sections for adoptive and foster parents, birth mothers and teens and tweens who are in foster care. It features paper and electronic books people can request, videos, articles and links. Many of the resources are just to help people, especially the children, birth parents and those seeking information about adoption. Others include web-based or in-person learning options for adoptive and foster parents. Foster parents must complete 10 hours of CEU training a year. This allows them to complete some of that training online and there are schedules where they can see what in-person training Catholic Charities offers. These sessions range from how foster parents can better communicate with schools to diagnosis and medication management as well as other childcare topics.
“We wanted it to have a variety of tools,” said Griffin. “One part of the environment that gets left out is birth parents. There is information on how to search for a child that they may not know about,” explained Griffin. She said many people did not talk about birth parents before the modern idea of open adoption. She said she has seen a change in birth mothers who opt to give up their babies in her time in the field. “Most of them want open adoption now. They are not afraid to share their information. Today, most of them are driving the adoption. They are being more proactive, seeking out parents themselves,” she added. She said there are risks in this kind of adoption, but it does put more power in the hands of the birth family.
Harris said she has seen many changes in the adoption and foster care field throughout her career. “This technology age has really brought about a change. Seeing Catholic Charities go through that and add it in has really been a positive thing,” she said. Resources like this online library are an example of how the agency can serve multiple audiences at one time.
The staff plans to maintain the site, adding new materials as need. It can be found online at www.ccjresourcelibrary.org.
Catholic Charities programs such as adoption and foster care are funded through Catholic Service Appeal. Donations help cover overall costs at the agency and put money into particular programs as needed. It’s not too late to pledge or donate to CSA.
By Maureen Smith