I’d like to talk about Every Day Counts, the three-month initiative of the Division of Children and Family Services and Project Zero to focus on finding adoptive families for children in Arkansas’s foster care system.
As with everything else in life, COVID-19 hurt some of the good work we were doing in the adoption system. The courts shut down, and as a result, the number of children waiting to be adopted has increased over the past 18 months because we were not able to place them in permanent homes as quickly. The Department of Human Services conducted much of its business virtually.
To make up the lost time, the Division of Children and Family Services and Project Zero developed the Every Day Counts campaign to emphasize the urgency of finding a home for these children. These 349 kids waiting for adoption are in foster care through no fault of their own. Every day a child spends in foster care is one day too many.
Of the 349 children, DHS has identified 162 children of them who are near adoption and hope to move them into their forever families during the ninety-day campaign.
One of the many heroes of the campaign is Christie Erwin, who founded the non-profit Project Zero ten years ago with the goal of reducing the number of children in need of adoption to zero. Christie and her husband have fostered more than fifty children and adopted two.
Christie dreams that Arkansas could be the first state without a single child waiting for adoption. She dreams of the day that instead of a waiting list with children’s names, the list will have families waiting to adopt with no children available.
On Wednesday, Christie helped throw a Sweet 16 birthday party for Dwynea, who is in the foster care system. A news crew from TV station KARK broadcast a story about the party. A photo of Dwynea and a short video about her are among the dozens of stories on Project Zero’s Arkansas Heart Gallery.
The Heart Gallery is one of Project Zero’s most important tools in finding adoptive families. Christie tells the story of a young man whose story on the Heart Gallery didn’t attract much notice. But one year, a couple who had seen his story went to an event for foster children and prospective parents with the intention of meeting him. They recognized him, spent the evening with him, and eventually adopted him.
Christie said that to see him adopted into a family after six years in a state facility and pull his life together and graduate from high school was a very special moment.
The Every Day Counts campaign will put short films about each of the children and teens waiting to be adopted on its Arkansas Heart Gallery so that families can hear their stories in their own voice.
During July and August, sixty-two children were moved to their forever families, and we hope to make even more progress in the next three months.
In Project Zero’s math, one plus one equals zero. Place one child with one family enough times and eventually the number of children on the waiting list will be zero. I often refer to my goal of improving the quality of life for all Arkansans. That is a long-term ambition. Adoption is a way to improve the quality of life for one Arkansan – a child – right now.