UK program offers support to adoptive parents

vhoneycutt@herald-leader.comJanuary 3, 2011 

Tammy Jones, a new foster parent, is looking for pointers on dealing with the melancholy she feels when a foster child she wants to adopt is instead returned to the biological family.

Adoptive father Michael Cobb has been seeking the best treatment for his 2-year-old daughter's language delay.

Help with their problems comes from a monthly support group in Lexington led by Gerry Whalen, who has been a foster and adoptive mother since the 1970s and contracts with the University of Kentucky to lead the group. Whalen's is one of 32 adoptive parent support groups across the state that form Adoption Support for Kentucky, based at UK.

Each month, Jones and Cobb join about 30 other foster or adoptive parents and the children they are caring for at the Lexington Public Library branch on Russell Cave Road.

"I'm available anytime a person wants to call me," said Whalen, who is an independent contractor for UK. Members of the support group also count on each other for help.

"It's a really great place to share resources," said Carrie Saunders, the program's director. Families new to foster care and adoption talk to experienced foster families. "It's a great place to learn about doctors and therapists who know about the grief and loss that a foster child experiences," Saunders said.

In October, the program, commonly known as ASK, won a 2010 Adoption Excellence Award from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The awards honor groups that are helping to increase the number of children from the foster care system who are adopted or placed in permanent homes.

Whalen said she explains adoption court procedures and provides information on educational issues involving foster and adoptive children at the meetings. One recent topic was managing the stress foster and adoptive parents experience.

Attendance at meetings of ASK, which was developed in 2002, count toward the required training foster parents need.

Mike Grimes, an adoption services branch manager for the Kentucky Department for Community Based Services, nominated ASK for the award, according to a statement from UK.

"Whether at the initial stage of adoption interest or far past finalization, ASK has created an all inclusive setting to fortify families who have generously opened their homes," Grimes said in his letter.

Cobb adopted Gabrielle as a single parent. He is raising her with his partner, Tyrone Owens. Cobb and Owens said members of the support group have helped them with things like finding physicians and therapists.

"It helps knowing that people are in the same situation that you are, that you are not alone," Cobb said.

At least 1,788 children in Kentucky cannot return to their families because of abuse or neglect, and the goal is for them to be adopted, according to Saunders.

But Jones said she was warned from the outset that reunification with a child's family was possible.

Since September, Jones has kept an infant boy, who after three days returned to his mother, but later came back to Jones' home. She had a 2-year-old girl for two weeks before the child went back to her grandmother's home. And she currently has a 4-year-old boy.

"The No. 1 goal is to reunify. The Cabinet for Health and Family Services takes that very seriously," said Saunders, who runs the UK program. Social workers try to place children removed from the home of their birth parents with family members first, and use foster homes when relatives aren't available, she said.

The hardest thing for Jones and her husband, Jonathan, has been to watch children who they have become attached to go back to their families, she said.

But Jones said she finds solace in the advice of other foster and adoptive parents.

They remind her: "You've still done something that's going to make a lasting impression on them," she said.

Reach Valarie Honeycutt Spears at (859) 231-3409.

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