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‘Extreme’ effort finds permanent homes for foster children

The three teens had been in foster care for seven years—each had been in about 10 different homes in that time.

Their chances of finding a permanent home seemed unlikely—until a private detective tackled their cases.

Last fall, social workers knew of a handful of relatives for each of the boys. The private detective mined records, knocked on doors and found dozens of relatives for each child.

More importantly, all three boys were matched with adoptive parents within four months.

They were the first Virginia success stories to come from a new method of matching foster children with adoptive parents.

Extreme Recruitment was inspired by “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” a television show where contractors, designers and volunteers race to fix up homes in a week.

In Extreme Recruitment, social workers, therapists, advocates, probation officers, attorneys and private detectives work together to find a family for a foster child in 12 to 20 weeks.

“Every child deserves this, deserves having a team and a group of people being urgent and persistent,” said Adalay Wilson, associate vice president of programs for the foster care agency UMFS.

That agency, which works with the hardest-to-place foster children, started Extreme Recruitment last fall.

The model began in 2008 in St. Louis, Mo., after the director of the Foster and Adoptive Care Coalition saw the makeover show on television.

The method came to Virginia last fall when the Virginia Department of Social Services gave UMFS a grant for intensive recruitment efforts.

“It absolutely is working,” Wilson said. “These teen boys, for example, found adoptive families plus, we found 80 or more relatives they didn’t know about, and they now have a greater sense of community and family.”

And the method is needed in Virginia, where about 1,300 foster children are waiting for adoptive families. The wait is especially long for foster children who are teens or who have disabilities.

In Fredericksburg, about 18 percent of foster children are ages 14 to 18, and social workers work hard to recruit families willing to take in teenagers. Now, about 15 percent of the city’s resource parents are willing to take teens, said Christen Gallik, director of Fredericksburg’s Department of Social Services.

Taking in teens requires patience, commitment and a willingness to learn, said Tammy Franges, who just adopted a 17-year-old boy.

This latest adoption is the fifth for Franges, who also has four biological children.

The Henrico County mom now has three teens at home, including two 17-year-old boys.

She is the resource parent liaison for UMFS and often tells new families to expect problems.

“These kids are going to have challenges because they haven’t been parented well, there has been something dysfunctional in the family and that impacts children,” Franges said. “That commitment to hanging in there when things aren’t going well is really, really important.”

Amy Umble: 540/735-1973



Interested in adopting through foster care? Call the Fredericksburg office of UMFS at 540/898-1773 to learn more.

The Fredericksburg Department of Social Services’ classes for foster and adoptive families will start in September. Call Michelle Matthews at 540/372-1032, ext. 241, for details.

Classes for prospective foster or adoptive parents start Monday in Spotsylvania County. There will also be an orientation July 28 for people who want to learn more about foster care. For details, call 540/507-7824 or 540/507-7817.

Stafford County’s Department of Social Services will offer training for foster parents in September. For details, call 540/658-8720.