It’s a promise not just of a home, but of hope, love and a future, that drives this nonprofit group to help children in the foster care system find loving families. In many cases, what begins as a temporary shelter becomes a forever home.
The girl’s blonde braids are in constant motion as she shyly invites the restaurant patron to pet her puppy. The owner of the outdoor cafe introduces herself and her friend, 8-year-old Olivia.
“My name is Missy,” she explains. “My husband and I are foster parents. Olivia and her sister joined our family three days ago.”
It’s been a few years since Missy and her husband first became foster parents, joyfully welcoming into their home children in need. The entrepreneurs have a hectic schedule, but they still find plenty of time to cherish their foster children and a friendly puppy. The pair spent several months caring for two infants. Then, Olivia and her sister, Autumn, joined the family.
Though the sisters arrived needing a temporary home, there’s a good chance this will become their forever home.
“We expect these two will be with us for a long time,” Missy says with a smile.
It’s all thanks to the help of Let It Be Us, a Barrington-based nonprofit that focuses on our state’s most vulnerable children by providing foster and adoptive homes for those in need.
In Illinois, there are some 18,000 children in foster care, and an additional 1,000 new children needing care every year, according to Susan McConnell, executive director of Let It Be Us.
These children have been removed from their homes by the courts and the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). In most cases, it’s because the children experienced neglect or abuse at home.
In Illinois, the court system and DCFS typically resist taking rights from parents except in extreme situations, says McConnell. Yet, children who are removed from their birth family return in only about 40% of cases. The rest – almost 60% – must be placed in either a foster home or a group home.
The latter can provide basic needs, but like any institutional environment, there is little individualized attention. Worse, research by the University of Chicago and Illinois DCFS indicate that, of children who remain in foster care, only 37% will graduate from high school, 45% of girls will be pregnant by age 19, and a large number of boys end up in the prison system.
By comparison, research by the National Center for Educational Statistics shows that, of children adopted into a safe home, 92% will graduate high school and 46% will graduate college.
Foster care and adoption are the bridge for children who may otherwise be left behind without hope.
All around Illinois, there are families eager fill their homes with the love and laughter of children. They may do it through adoption or through fostering – and often through both.
“My husband, Casey, and I looked forward to having a family of our own, but after several years of marriage and multiple attempts to become pregnant, babies didn’t come,” says Katie Strugielski. “We turned to our faith, which led us to the foster care system of Illinois. There are so many kids who need love and support. We were ready to give.”
Let it Be Us was founded in 2014 after McConnell raised three of her four children through fostering and adoption.
“My husband, Douglas, and I found ourselves empty-nesters,” she says. “We decided to help others experience the joy and love we found in the foster care program and address the need for more foster homes.”
Let It Be Us provides information, events and inspiration for foster and adoption of children throughout the state.
Becoming a licensed foster parent requires 39 hours of training, a federal background check and fingerprinting, references, an interview, and the desire to provide a safe, nurturing household for children.
Foster licensing has no age limit so long as the individual or couple are capable. While experienced parents are encouraged to foster children, experience is not required. Some children may thrive better in an unconventional household due to the traumas they might have received in their former home.
“Teachers, unmarried individuals and households of all types are welcome in the foster care licensing program,” says McConnell. “Candidates for foster parenting are as diverse as the children in need of homes.”
Some families may choose to be temporary foster parents, meaning they may house a child for only a few days while case workers seek a suitable, permanent placement. Grandparents and empty-nesters may find these temporary care situations appropriate for them.
But some parents seek foster care as a means of adopting the children into their family forever. When adopting through fostering, there are no adoption fees, and families are paid a stipend until the child is 18. All that’s required is at least six months of foster care.
Let It Be Us has assisted more than 600 parents with foster licensing and adoption throughout Illinois. With her staff of 12, McConnell and many volunteers host recruitment events to help potential foster parents learn the facts, share experiences and help each other. These events foster more than children into new families. They build new friendships with like families who navigate the process of adoption together.
Recruitment events are held throughout the state and can be found on Let It Be Us’ website, letitbeus.org. Look for an event locally on Oct. 12, as the Community Foundation of McHenry County co-hosts a recruitment event at Church of Holy Apostles in McHenry.
McConnell celebrates every new foster family, every child placed in a forever home. She believes that inspiring more foster parents will offer a safe harbor and a lifelong support system for children to flourish and become all they are made to be.
“The child who is adopted becomes the beneficiary of an investment made in them by their adoptive families, their new parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, siblings as well as their communities,” says McConnell. “They graduate from high school, have opportunities to complete college – and that leads to successful careers. They form their own positive households and reinvest in society.”
Fun Facts About Adoption & Fostering
• In Illinois, in order to adopt a child from foster care, parents must foster for six months. This applies to adoption through foster care, traditional agency adoption and international adoption.
• Anyone can adopt from foster care. The State does not discriminate against age, income, gender, sexual orientation or marital status.
• There are no legal fees required to become a foster parent or to adopt from foster care.
• Each foster child comes with a monthly stipend and medical insurance, both of which continue until the child reaches 18 years of age. This continues even if the child is adopted.
• Children in foster care, or adopted from foster care, can attend university, college or community college for free in Illinois.
• The average age of a child available for adoption from foster care is 8.