Since 2017, Greenlight Family Services has been designated by the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption as an Illinois partner for Wendy’s Wonderful Kids, a signature program of the foundation that brings children waiting to be adopted from foster care one step closer to safe, loving and permanent homes. The Dave Thomas Foundation believes that “unadoptable is unacceptable.” This mantra is at the heart of everything we do at Greenlight. Please take a moment to read Mercedes Lovett’s first person experience as a Greenlight Wendy’s Wonderful Kids Adoption Recruiter:

Mercedes Lovett, MSW, Wendy’s Wonderful Kids Adoption Recruiter

“As a Greenlight Wendy’s Wonderful Kids (WWK) Adoption Recruiter, I wholeheartedly believe that every child deserves a forever family regardless of the emotional, behavioral, medical or physical challenges they face. Therefore, it is my goal as a WWK Recruiter to find permanency for all children waiting in the Illinois foster care system, starting first with children assigned to my caseload. I work with children of all ages, but I specifically focus on those children who have issues that prevent them from easily being matched; including older children, children with complex medical, behavioral and educational needs, children who have previously failed placements, and those who are a part of a sibling group.

In order to find the right family for the children assigned to my caseload, I utilize an intensive evidence-based Child Focused Recruitment Model. The model focuses on reviewing the child’s history, experiences, and connections to find permanency with someone known to the child. It emphasizes and places the most importance on meeting the child’s needs. The model uses eight components that when implemented lead to achieving successful outcomes for the minors. These components include child referral, relationship with the child, case record review, assessment of adoption readiness, adoption preparation, network building, recruitment plan, and diligent search.

I am given a smaller caseload so that I can focus intensively on finding a “forever family” for Illinois Youth in Care. A smaller caseload affords me the ability to develop a rapport with the children I serve and their network, which is so integral to the recruitment process. Nobody slips through the cracks. It’s important to me that my kiddos and their network feel a sense of trust with me so they can be open. Without the children and their network, I would not succeed in finding their forever family, preparing them for adoption and post-adoption.

My goal is to have the children on my caseload be open and forthcoming with me in order to let me know about people in their network who are currently or formerly known to them regardless of location. Examples of such people may include a teacher, neighbor, former caseworker, a classmate’s parent, extended family, former foster parent, sports coach or adult siblings. Once I am aware of those people who are in the child’s network, I work diligently to locate them and to figure out ways in which they can potentially be a permanent resource, even if they can’t provide placement. I want to know that the person interested in providing permanency is able and willing to meet the minor’s needs, regardless of the complexity. I want to know that the family is willing and open to seeking ongoing training of knowledge needed to effectively help in meeting the minors specific needs. I want to know that the child is entering a home that will be supportive.

Unlike general recruitment tactics that find non-related families for children, using the Child-Focused Recruitment Model aids in finding someone currently or previously known to the child. It is proven that children adopted by someone they already know and have a history with are less likely to experience disruption. Disruption happens when a child is placed in an adoptive home and the arrangement is not successful, sending the child back into the foster care system before his or her adoption is legally finalized. Therefore, I look for anyone appropriate and known by the child by exhaustively reviewing their history and facilitating ongoing conversations with the youth and their network.

As a Greenlight WWK Adoption Recruiter, I am honored to make positive and meaningful connections with the children I support. During the course of my role, I have been able to witness these children showcase their creative and artistic abilities at talent shows and dance performances. It is truly an honor for me and one of my favorite parts of my job. It is through these special moments that I am able to see how multifaceted these children are. It helps me get a deeper understanding of their true personalities. I love learning more about their interests, hobbies, and passions.

Additionally, I have been able to make strong connections to their network which may include extended relatives and fictive kin. These relationships have been so important to me because they help me to become knowledgeable of the minors past and their current needs in a way that the case manager or clinical team may not be familiar. Their network understands aspects of the child that I would not be able to because they are details that are learned with time and history. Additionally, having developed a rapport with their network allows us to join together in advocating, supporting and empowering the minor as this important task, finding forever family, cannot solely be accomplished by any one person alone. I’ve had the honor of cheering and celebrating children at events with their extended network which I know is so important to the youth as we all want family and friends supporting in the stands and cheering us on!

I am beyond grateful to be given the opportunity to be a part of each and every one of my children’s teams as the key resource available to aid in finding a forever family. I am grateful to my Center for Law and Social Work recruiting team and to the children’s assigned child welfare workers who work tirelessly each day advocating and supporting the minors. Without the invitation and collaboration of many dedicated individuals, I would not be able to have success in finding forever families as it is truly a team effort.

Through the partnership of Greenlight and Wendy’s Wonderful Kids and by using the Child-Focused Recruitment Model, I successfully matched two children with their forever families over the last six months. I believe every child deserves permanency. Adoption provides them with that gift which fulfills their need for unconditional love, belonging, and acceptance. I leave you with words that describe adoption to me: love, acceptance, belonging, destiny, stability, consistency, compassion, guidance, friendship, hope and a path to healing.

I believe that there is a family out there for every child. It is my hope and the hope of Greenlight to close the gap between children waiting in care and permanency in Illinois.”

If you are interested in adoption through foster care or to learn more about how Greenlight Family Services implements the WWK evidence-based Child-Focused Recruitment Model, visit Wendy’s Wonderful Kids or call 773-728-7800.