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News & Features
Waiting for a Home
By Elizabeth Stawicki
July 18, 1999
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In Minnesota, at least 1,000 children are wards of the state and who have no permanent home. Those numbers are expected to rise due in part to federal and state mandates that have accelerated the time troubled parents must improve their lives to keep custody of their children. Beginning this month, Minnesota counties are supposed to be up and running with a new program that puts a new twist on the role of foster parents in an effort to find permanent homes for children who have none.

IN HER FOUR YEARS of life Anna has known three sets of adults as her parents: her birth parents, her first foster parents, and the foster parents she lives with now.

Kids Awaiting Adoption
Hennepin County
Minnesota Adopt Web Site
Ramsey County
The State removed Anna from her birth mother who was breaking the law and battling drug addiction. It then placed the little girl with a foster family who, earlier this year, said they could no longer care for her. The State then placed Anna with the Nelsons who live just outside of Rochester.
Terri Nelson: When we first met her, we just fell in love with her; she's just an adorable little girl.
Terri Nelson, her husband and two adopted sons are Anna's foster family and, could become her permanent family.

Historically, the state has carved out two separate and very different roles for people who care for children like Anna. Foster parents were temporary caretakers and they assumed the child was theirs only temporarily; adoptive parents only took children who'd live with them permanently.

But the Nelsons have agreed to act as both foster parents and possible adoptive parents. They'll care for Anna, support her relationship with her biological mother and at the same time, they've agreed to adopt the girl if that becomes necessary.

Erin Sullivan-Sutton, who heads the Family and Children Services Division of the Department of Human Services says Anna is part of a new program that asks some foster parents to commit to adopting children who may eventually go back home.
Sullivan-Sutton: It really is a different way of looking at foster parents; not everybody can support reunification with parents and be the cheerleader for the parents and also commit long term.
The program is known as concurrent planning. It aims to cut down the number of times a child like Anna is moved from home to home. Under the former system Anna would've lived in a series of foster homes until someone adopted her. The current list of children awaiting adoption on Ramsey County's Web Site illustrates how long some children wait.

Many children in the foster-care system are emotionally wounded due to unstable homes and sometimes chemical-abusing birthparents. The trauma increases each time they grow to love and trust a foster family only to be yanked out of that home and moved to another. Such instability, says Joe Kroll of the North American Council on Adoptable Children, can irreparably damage a child's ability to trust and bond with other people.
Kroll: Sometimes you get the older kids who at 15, 16 say "well, I don't want to be adopted." They don't trust the system. They don't trust that there's a family out there. With concurrent planning they get into one family and it's either that family or they go home.
North American Council on Adoptable Children
The North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC) is a non-profit broad-based coalition committed to all children waiting for adoption. A wide range of programs, publications and conferences are available for adoptive parents-to-be- and for volunteers who want to get involved.

For further information, contact:

970 Raymond Avenue
Suite 106
St. Paul, MN 55114;
612-644-3036 (9 AM-5 PM CT)

The Compassionate Friends
P.O. Box 3696
Oak Brook, IL. 60522-3696
For Reinold and Terri Nelson, taking on dual-role foster parenting carries heavy-duty emotional risk. The Nelsons had serious qualms about living in a limbo were they commit to adopting Anna as their own child but must also support her possible return to her birth mother. Terri Nelson said she and her husband cope by assuming Anna is theirs permanently and if the girl eventually goes back to her birth mother, they'll deal with that pain down the road.
Nelson: That's really difficult for people. I was talking to social workers and said that's not what you would tell people, that this may not be permanent, the kind of risks that would scare people off. But when you look at a four-year old that's never had their own bed, wouldn't you want them? Isn't that worth doing to say here's your bed?
The Department of Human Services acknowledges that putting foster parents in this conflicting role could lead some who grow attached to a child to sabotage efforts at reuniting it with its birthparents. But the department says social workers should be able to weed out those parents through intensive screening early on.

Reinold Nelson says he decided he'd risk the pain of loss if it meant Anna would not have to.
Reinold Nelson: It's like why hurt the child; if I'm going from foster home to foster home? This way here you just hurt one older couple

Terri Nelson: As healthy adults, we should be able to cope with this; that's part of being an adult. But for kids, they've always been put in the middle.
State law requires counties to create concurrent planning programs this month. But unlike Olmsted where the Nelsons live, most Minnesota counties are only in the early planning stages.