Always On My Mind

June 5This guest blog post is written by Felicia Newell, a Grants Manager for the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. She is also a former Wendy’s Wonderful Kids recruiter who continues to have a passion for foster care adoption. 

In August 2016, my husband of 20 years passed away. I was 47 years old and it was my mother who held my hand when I laid him to rest. It was my cousin who said, “You know you can’t live alone right now. You’re coming to stay with me.”

This is what I wanted for the youth on my Wendy’s Wonderful Kids caseload when I was a recruiter. I wasn’t looking for someone to simply raise them. I wanted them to have a home when the college dorms closed for the holiday break, a dad to call when their car broke down on the highway and a mother to hold their hand if the doctor said, “You have a lump.” The thought of what would happen to one of my kids if I failed would sometimes keep me up at night. Stressful as it was, I simply loved the work.

Over the course of four and a half years as a recruiter, I was privileged to find adoptive homes for 50 children. However, the child that comes to my mind most frequently is Elliott, the one that got away. Elliott was the very first child on my caseload to age out of the foster care system without a family. I was very new to the position when my director told me that this developmentally-delayed youth would turn 18 in a couple months and that I needed to stop working with him because it was “too late.” Feeling defeated and a bit intimidated, I simply accepted it. As I developed in my role over the years, I became a bit of a bulldog when making sure my kids had families, regardless of if they were incarcerated or had limited life expectancies. However, as Elliot now approaches his 27th birthday, I still wonder what has become of him. Could his life be different if I had put up a fight for him?

Five years ago, I accepted the position of Grants Manager with the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, which forced the difficult decision to give up my caseload. The Foundation uses a very specific type of recruitment when looking for families to adopt. It’s called child-focused. It’s a model I believe in wholeheartedly because it takes into account the needs of the child and finds a family based on that. Because it’s tailored to each child, it works. I took on my new role with the Foundation because I wanted to help other recruiters use this model to find permanent homes for the children on their caseloads. What I discovered is that they were utilizing the child-focused recruitment model in ways that I wish I had known about when I was doing the work! I feel very fortunate to possess this wealth of information that I can share among the brilliant recruiters in my group. When a stressed and disappointed recruiter tells me that she needs to remove a child from the caseload because it’s been three years and nothing seems to be working, I share the success of the Austin, Texas recruiter whose child was adopted after eight years on the caseload.

Despite our best efforts, there are times when we are unsuccessful. Each recruiter has their own “Elliott.” But part of my responsibility is to ensure that when they look back years from now, they know that they did everything they could to help a child. The inner bulldog that we possess and the love we have for our kids are what make this program work, and after nearly ten years I’m still thrilled to be a part of it. So that every child has a hand to hold and a place to just be, when they need it most.