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Catholic Charities: Adults Adopting Special Kids

Lydia Hoverson
 July 9, 2022
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Minot – Catholic Charities North Dakota serves the community in the foster care system by providing home studies and other resources.

Micaela Haider, an adoption specialist and social worker for Adults Adopt Special Kids (AASK), said this program is specifically for children in foster care who are legally freed for adoption.

“We work with our county agencies, our zone partners,” said Haider. “We also work with all of the North Dakota tribes. And we work with the adoptive families for those children who have been identified by their custodial team as an adoptive option or an adoptive resource. We do home studies on the families. We do an adoption assessment on every child, and then we facilitate that process with the family and kind of walk with them. And then we help them with the finalization process.”

Haider said the program includes North Dakota Post Adopt, which she described as a program closely related to AASK.

“They help families after they finalize,” Haider explained. “We’re very very busy. Busier than a lot of people think we are.”

Haider described herself and her program as state contracted, but not a state employee, saying it is the law in North Dakota for every adoptive family to have a home study, and that is what AASK provides.

In the home study, Haider said a social worker will go into the foster homes of the foster kids and ask questions of both the children and foster parents.

“We’ll ask about their marriage, we’ll ask about their finances,” Haider described. “Their health, their parenting experiences.”

Haider said every family looking to adopt in North Dakota must follow a training around 30 hours long called Parent Resource for Information, Development, Education (PRIDE).

“We’re going through all those competencies, and we’re making sure our families are meeting them,” said Haider. “That is pretty much the approval or denial process in the assessment to provide a safe, stable, loving home for those children.”

AASK is the only foster care approval system in the state, meaning no matter what, if someone wishes to adopt through foster care, he or she must go through AASK.

“I’m employed by Catholic Charities, the program I work for is Adults Adopting Special Kids,” Haider explained. “AASK, we are the only ones who facilitate those options in North Dakota. We’re a big team.”

Haider said there is another worker for AASK in Minot, with one in Williston, Dickinson, one for the tribal areas, one in Devils Lake, three in Grand Forks, three or four in Bismarck, and four or five in Fargo.

“Case loads are crazy, we have a lot of kids in care statewide,” Haider said. “We also work with children who don’t have an adoptive option. Those are often referred to as our waiting kids or recruitment children.”

Haider guessed around 25 to 30 children are waiting to be adopted. Though there are also families on the waiting list to adopt, part of the backup is due to the home studies that are required for those families before they can adopt.

“We’re trying to study as many waiting families so we can lessen the number of waiting children,” Haider explained. “You don’t even have to be foster care licensed to adopt from foster care. I think that’s one thing that people don’t realize. We do encourage families to be foster care licensed if their open to that because it truly does give you really good experience. Children in foster care have been through unimaginable hard things. We want our families to be aware of that and know how to navigate through that.”

Haider said most people who have their children in foster care love them but simply do not have the resources to provide and safe and stable home. She also explained that for a foster child to be “legally freed” for adoption would mean there has to be a termination of parental rights (TPR).

“Sometimes that’s voluntary, sometimes it’s involuntary,” said Haider. “Sometimes the parents do make the selfless decision, in my opinion, to say, ‘I’m not able to be a parent right now, so I’m going to make this choice, so my child can be adopted.’

When the county involuntarily terminates the parent’s rights, Haider said it is not easy.

“It’s really, really tough. It’s a really huge deal to submit a TPR,” Haider explained. “We’re always saying we want permanency with the children. Permanency could mean reunification with the birth parent. That is always the primary goal with foster care. When kids come into care, that is their goal, to reunify with their birth parents. And then there’s other permanency options. If the custodial team feels there needs to be another goal, we call it concurrent planning. That’s really just having a Plan A and a Plan B. There’s guardianship, and there’s an adoption goal as well.”

Haider explained another goal called Another Planned Permanent Living Arrangement (APPLA) for older kids who wish to opt out of foster care when they turn 18. She also explained the difference between guardianship and adoption, where, with guardianship, the birth parent can assume the role of a parent when he or she is ready, whereas with adoption, the parent’s rights are completely terminated and cannot be reversed.

“Openness is something that we talk about too in the PRIDE model,” Haider added. “There is a competency of maintaining that connection with a child. I talk extensively with my adoptive families about the importance of that. A lot of the families I work with are open to maintaining those connections. Sometimes they have a fantastic relationship already with the birth parents. That always makes me so happy when I don’t even feel like I have to talk to them about it because they already understand the importance of maintaining those connections.”

Though openness is not always an option due to safety concerns, Haider said it is the ideal. 

“Identity formation is historically difficult for adoptees, because, ‘Who am I? Where did I come from? Where did I get these attributes from?’” Haider described. “That kind of puts those pieces together when children are able to maintain or form those connections. Sometimes, for kids that I work with, there are safety concerns, and that’s something that needs to be assessed. Obviously we want to keep kids safe.I always say as long as it’s safe and in the child’s best interest, even though it’s sometimes really hard for adoptive families to be open, ‘cause it’s scary, We advocate for openness.”

lydia.hoverson@mydakotan.com 

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