Adoption2Action provides services to families in the 5th Judicial Circuit, which includes Marion, Lake, Sumter, Citrus and Hernando counties.Katie Pohlman @Katie_Pohlman
She sat, legs crossed, in a worn-in blue recliner and watched a blonde-haired blue-eyed 6-year-old boy play with two miniature monster trucks on the living room carpet. He made sound effects mimicking the revving of engines with his mouth as he guided the trucks along an imaginary route.
“We didn’t think we would be in our 40s and adopting,” said Carol Todd, of Ocala.
Carol and her husband Greg fostered slightly fewer than 200 children over 20 years, but had never adopted. It was not until they decided to stop fostering children that the oldest of their three boys, Riley, 10, came to them.
Riley, a brown-haired blue-eyed boy with a slender build, came to the Todds when he was a few days shy of 5 months. The couple was asked to watch him for a night and he just never left, Carol said.
Twins Gregory and Graham entered the family’s life three years later, when they were just a few days old. They were born with five major drugs in their system and required medical care at UF Health Shands Hospital.
Carol said that in both cases, God told her to adopt the children.
The Todds soon realized that adopting children was much different than fostering them — for better and worse.
Organizational and state rules were no longer obstacles to what the two could do with their children, but they also lost a support network. The boys needed counseling and Carol needed help ensuring they received an education that worked for them individually.
A friend of Carol's, who also is an adoptive parent, introduced her to Adoption2Action, which provides post-adoptive services to families in the 5th Judicial Circuit — which includes Marion, Lake, Sumter, Citrus and Hernando counties.
Adoption2Action founder Melissa Merritt said case managers act as liaisons between families and doctor offices, counselors, schools, scholarship programs and Medicaid help lines. The Adoption2Action team will do anything from advocating for the families to just providing a kind ear.
“As adoptive parents, we get left off the grid,” Carol Todd said. With Adoption2Action “I actually have somebody to call. If I’m dealing with anything or have any questions, I have someone to go to.”
Merritt founded Adoption2Action in 2015 after she came to the same realization as the Todds and decided to fill the needs gap. The mother of two adopted special-needs sons brainstormed a list of services she had a hard time navigating as a new adoptive parent. She also called other adoptive parents she knew to get feedback and ideas.
Once word spread that she was interested in providing these services, parents began calling her for referrals. And it snowballed from there, she said.
Merritt plans to eventually expand Adoption2Action to serve the Sunshine State’s entire central region, but is currently focused on perfecting the program. Her main goal is to let adoptive families know they have support.
Most Adoption2Action employees have had some experience with the foster care system and adoption, whether they are adoptive parents or were adopted as children themselves.
“I want them to know they’re not alone,” Merritt said. “I want them to know I get it.”
When a family first contacts Adoption2Action, a case manager will reach out to them and set up a meeting to establish the family’s background and their needs. From there, case managers help the family apply for scholarships or enroll their children in camps.
Susan Monroe, of McIntosh, said although she has only been working with Adoption2Action for a few months, her case manager was able to find a music camp for her son Gavin, 14, which changed his future outlook.
“It gives him things to look at … so he’s excited for his future,” Monroe said. “It’s opened his mind more to what he could do as far as college.”
Monroe said she always saw programs that looked good or interesting to her son, but it was impossible to find them. Adoption2Action provides that missing link to getting kids enrolled.
Most families Adoption2Action works with need help with education, counseling and subsidies, said case manager Heather Sanchez. Several children require an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), which establishes goals and support systems to ensure the child does well in school.
If requested, case managers will attend IEP meetings with the adoptive parents to make sure they are productive and create a plan that is good for the child.
“It’s always nice to have that person walk in with you and ask the right questions,” Monroe said.
Todd said having her case manager attend the IEP meeting helped develop a plan and put practices in place that would not have happened otherwise. She had talked to teachers and school officials about an IEP for the twins, but was not getting anywhere. Just having someone to go with made it that much easier, she said.
Sanchez said there is no time limit to Adoption2Action services. Once a family uses Adoption2Action services, they can always come back when needed.
“Our main goal is to maintain permanency with the family,” she said. “If that takes 10 years, then that’s what we’ll do.”
Monroe said she wishes Adoption2Action or a similar agency existed four years ago. She had an older son, 17, whom she had to relinquish custody of because of behavioral issues. He refused counseling and had a lot of built up aggression, she said.
She believes that if she could have worked to divert his behavior with the help of Adoption2Action, he would still be living with her and Gavin. She simply did not have enough experience to help him on her own, she said.
Adoption2Action “can help parents deal and make the right choices to handle these situations,” Monroe said. “I wish I knew that everything I did in response to (my son) was for the best.”
Contact Katie Pohlman at 867-4065, firstname.lastname@example.org or @katie_pohlman.
Source : http://www.ocala.com/news/20180417/new-agency-fills-post-adoption-services-void