Reed cites need for more resources after visit to Village for RI Foster & Adoptive Families

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A number of weeks after Senator Jack Reed hosted the founders of Cranston’s The Village for RI Foster and Adoptive Families during their whirlwind Washington, D.C. Angels in Adoption awards trip, the group took a turn playing host to the Senator in Cranston.

Reed stopped by the group’s Ocean Road location in the Edgewood section of Cranston and had a frank discussion with the founders of the Village and a group of foster and adoptive parents about what he and his colleagues in Washington can do to help address some of the roadblocks faced by families who are trying to make the lives of children better by providing them with a temporary or forever family.

It was Senator Reed who nominated The Village co-founders for the award.

Reed settled in at The Village, taking advantage of the homey atmosphere there to listen carefully to each foster or adoptive parent’s story of the joys, rewards, trials and tribulations of their journeys. He listened as families, who oftentimes had multiple biological children of their own, spoke of taking in one, two, three and more foster children, many times with a wide variety of needs and working hard to give them what they need, welcoming them with open arms into their families.

Each and every story was different from the next, but the bond of being a foster or adoptive family was one that connected every parent in the room, and is the reason The Village was created as a support system for and by people who have “been there” or are currently in the midst of their own journeys.

“What you are hearing is just a small sampling of what families take on in fostering and adopting,” said co-founder Elaine Gabellieri. “They need resources and support, someone to lean on.”

Kelley Fluette, another of The Village co-founders, agreed.

“This was definitely something that we felt we needed to launch because we felt the need for this,” she said. “There was definitely a need for support from the people who have done it, who get it.”

Reed was present as Nick Thompson, 29 accepted the “Family of the Month” award from Village co-founder Maya Colantuono on behalf of he and his wife, April, also 29. The couple has a new, months-old foster baby who is medically fragile, and has three biological children, and two adoptive children, the new baby bringing their current total of children to six. Their new baby is not the first one they have fostered who has special significant medical needs.

“We started fostering in 2012, we were at the right time in our lives. We talked about it with our kids and they love it,” Nick said. “They have learned some very valuable life lessons.”

The Thompsons were not the only couple in the room that had many foster or adoptive children at the same time, along with their own biological children, and as Reed listened, he noted later that this was something that struck him the most about the stories he was hearing.

“These are not stories of a young couple who were looking to adopt one baby,” he said. “These are established families who already have or have had multiple children, opening their lives to more. This is what I find the most surprising he said.”

Seeks input

It was only after listening to every story shared, that Reed asked what it was he could do to help the grassroots organization and those that they help to support.

“I think that The Village provides sort of a vehicle to form a collective voice,” said Colantuono. “Change comes from grassroots. The new director at DCYF is on a good path, but they do not have the tools to get the job done. The foster and adoption system is broken. As an organization, we can provide a way for families to get together and advocate for what needs to be done. The foster care system needs to be ramped up. Stipends need to be increased. The Adoption Tax Credit is great, but it’s a one-shot thing. Kids need services, they have significant trauma, significant medical needs, educational needs and it’s often very difficult to get those services.”

Another parent in the room mentioned that the DCYF website is often not updated, and hours can be spent just searching and trying to find a dentist, for example, that is approved to see a child in the system. On the flip side, one phone call to The Village, and a parent there can offer a list of providers they’ve been able to use in a more efficient manner.

Reed agreed, and noted that upon hearing the stories shared, he realized that with the version of the budget recently passed by the House of Representatives which doubles the family exemption, families with more than two dependents actually lose money.

“Any family with three, four or five children and beyond are losing money right out off the bat,” he said.

He next addressed the need for more services and competent providers for children in the system.

Need for more resources

“We definitely need to get more resources to the children in DCYF, and we’ve been dealing with these issues since I started in the state senate in 1984. We need highly skilled, well-trained people who are well compensated so that they stay. It’s not perfect by any means, but it’s gotten a little better than it was.”

Kim Zandy, adoptive parent and advocate at The Village, asked Senator Reed what he thought they could do as an organization to ramp up their advocacy.

Reed’s answer extended beyond Cranston, and beyond Rhode Island, to a more global advocacy that needs to take place in order to support children in the system.

“You need to reach out to other “Villages” around the country, organizations like yours who are in the system the way you are, and talk about the changes that need to be made to support foster and adoptive families, some of these red states for example, and talk about how some of these potential cuts affect families like theirs and like yours, and affect kids in the system. Let them contact their legislators to fight against these types of changes,” he said.

At the conclusion of the gathering, the co-founders of The Village presented Senator Reed with a framed copy of the recent Cranston Herald article chronicling their visit to Washington, D.C. for the Angels in Adoption award.

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