By Katie Friend, MA

Adoptions Listing Service and Inquiry Unit and Wendy’s Wonderful Kids Adoption Supervisor Katie Friend says after 25 years in social work, building trusting and genuine relationships with our most vulnerable youth is not only important but priceless. Read more about how she sees herself as a matchmaker for children in foster care looking for their forever home.

It may sound cliché, especially with “Friend” as your last name, but I like helping people. Providing knowledge and assistance is very rewarding. Child welfare allowed me to tap into a wide variety of experiences such as finding valuable resources for youth and families and increasing my ability to be objective while being an advocate for our most vulnerable. Although I work very closely with the youth, families and other professionals at Greenlight Family Services, I still feel as if my role is more behind the scenes. Often times I am steering the process with a gentle nudge or in a more demanding way if necessary. It feels good to be viewed as a valuable and respected member of the team. It’s often said that the rewards received from social service aren’t financial but come in the form of the lives you touch and help change for the better.

The youth I work with have complicated stories. There’s seldom a happy reason behind a child coming into foster care. Therefore, establishing trust can be difficult, especially with our youth who have been in care for many years. By the time they’re assigned onto my caseload, they’ve told their story 1,000 times to countless people- case workers, therapists, teachers, foster parents and classmates. They’ve been placed in a foster home they liked and then were pulled out. They’ve formed bonds that were broken again and again by the system and here I am, asking them to trust an adult…again. The heartbreaking challenge is when the trusting relationship is formed and you don’t have any available families for them. You see the hurt in their eyes and the hopelessness. Most families see a stigma attached to kids 13 and over and are hesitant to take a chance on a youth older than age 8.

Not every story is heartbreaking though. When a match is made and the child is brought to meet his or her prospective parents, everyone is on their best behavior. Over time you see the walls break down, you see the authenticity come out and you get a feel for how they’ll come together as a unit. It’s one of my favorite parts about my job at Greenlight- seeing a child be brave enough to trust adults once more and seeing the adults fall in love with the child.

The importance of our youth having lifelong connections can’t be stressed enough. They say it takes a village and I love being part of and helping to create that village. Hopefully the Village is an adoptive family but if the Village is something different, that can be great too. Our youth need mentors, teachers, coaches, fictive kin and biological family to wrap their arms and resources around our youth forever- not just until age 18.
Working for the Adoption Listing Service of Illinois at Greenlight has opened my eyes to the urgent need for adoptive families for our youth 8-17 years old. They are the faces you come across time after time on various adoption websites. Yes, their past contains trauma. Breaking down barriers, building trust and self esteem is hard work but it is very possible. It’s a myth that youth 8-17 don’t want to be adopted; they do and they tell me often and I can see it in the eyes of the ones not willing to say it out loud. The youth are not perfect and the changes are slow to manifest but they want and deserve a stable, nurturing, supportive and loving family. You may have heard an ad about becoming a foster parent that says “You don’t have to be perfect to be a foster parent”; and that is the truth. These children are not looking for “perfect families”. We have in depth conversations with our youth about what they want in a family. They are open minded and we talk honestly about our families who are of various ethnicities, races, gender, marital status, sexual orientation. What these children want most above anything else is a family that will care for, love, and support them.

Katie Friend is the Adoption Listing Service and Inquiry Unit and Wendy’s Wonderful Kids Supervisor with Greenlight Family Services. Last year at the annual summit, she received the Wendy’s Wonderful Kids Supervisor of the year Award. She is a former Wendy’s Wonderful Kids recruiter and has been working in social services for 25 years.