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Finding homes for children, one family at a time

By: Eileen Wilson Special to The Press Tribune
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California’s public foster care system may be full of sad stories, but Lilliput Children’s Services is trying to make sure those stories have happy endings. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than 18,000 children in California were in the public foster care system, waiting to be adopted in 2006. And Lilliput is making a dent in that statistic, one family at a time. Founded in 1980, Lilliput, a private, nonprofit agency, works with children and families in Northern California to match foster youth with loving, forever homes. The organization’s main branch is located in Sacramento, and the Granite Bay branch, Lilliput’s first in Placer County, opened a little over a year ago. There are between 3,800 and 4,000 foster kids in the region, each hoping to find permanent families. “We have several different programs, and what we’re running out of this office is adoption placement for foster children,” said Beverly Johnson, a licensed clinical social worker, and Lilliput’s program director. A licensed adoption agency, the organization matches people who would like to share their homes with a child, to children in need. “We usually work with kids who will not be re-unified with a birth parent or family member,” Johnson said. “We’re trying to find families for kids from 0 to 18. The greatest need is for sibling groups and older teens.” The organization finalized 533 adoptions last year, and hopes to confirm even more this year. Of course, adoption takes time, and isn’t always easy. Lilliput is licensed to certify foster families in Placer County, and does so, when the family has been matched with a child, and plans to begin the adoption process. “Our goal is that the final placement of foster care is just a stepping stone to permanent placement,” said Elizabeth Morabito, community relations coordinator. “I think, even though at first it’s a foster placement, there’s not a temporary feel. The child will be adopted – it will be a permanent home,” Morabito said. And to ensure the family is ready to take on a new member, Lilliput requires families to attend an informational session and intensive nine-week training that will answer questions, and ensure people are ready for the next step. “We really train the family ahead of time,” Morabito said. “It’s not always going to be easy. We really find the right match with child and family.” Morabito said she enjoys working for Lilliput, and thinks the organization is unique. “One thing I love about Lilliput, we don’t put a box around what is a family. As long as it’s a good, loving home, older people, unmarried, same sex, all these groups can make ideal families,” she said. Johnson agrees. “You don’t have to own your own home. There’s just a basic health exam and background screening,” she said. Maha Kury and John Peterson, added a 12-year-old son to their family, through Lilliput, two years ago. Kury has children in their thirties, from a previous marriage, and grandchildren as well. After 16 years of marriage, the couple decided to start a new family. “We’d be doing things, and would think ‘wouldn’t it be nice to have a child with us right now’,” Peterson said. “We do a lot of outdoor activities – rafting, camping, kayaking, bike riding – it seemed almost like a waste for us not to have a child.” The family’s son, not named due to privacy reasons, is now in seventh grade. Peterson and Kury said the preparation they received from Lilliput was necessary. “They talked to us about expectation management, they let you know, really openly, all the different challenges you might face,” Peterson said. “They talked to us about birth-parent issues, and how to parent a child who has been adopted. They talked a lot about bonding with your child,” Kury added. Today, their pre-teen son is a happy kid who is excited about school, and loves his Chihuahua, Chica. The organization, which also offers post-adoption services and support, is free, with the exception of a nominal fee that covers training materials. In addition to foster adoption, Lilliput assists families who are attempting private adoption, through their Contracted Home Studies Program, which involves social workers preparing paperwork and attending details, prior to adoption. This service is provided for a fee. Dan, Joy and Olivia Rowland were thrilled to add a new daughter, Kaylee, to their family, with the help of Lilliput’s Contracted Home Studies Program. “Olivia (the family’s now-16-year-old daughter) was 9 when we began adoption classes with Lilliput. We started thinking about adoption more than 17 years ago, even before Olivia was born,” Dan Rowland said. The Rowlands had always hoped for a large family, and were sad to see their daughter, Olivia, drawing pictures of a family with siblings, and telling people she had a brother, named Simba. “Simba was our yellow lab – we knew there was emptiness in our house affecting all of us, and another child had to be in our future,” Joy Rowland said. The Rowlands didn’t want to offer temporary placement to numerous foster children. They chose Lilliput because the organization’s philosophy is to provide permanent placement with as few disruptions to the children as possible. The Rowlands ultimately found a child through a private source, but found Lilliput’s help with the process invaluable. “A child is a gift from God. We have been blessed with two amazing daughters,” Joy Rowland said. “The excitement of pregnancy and labor quickly fades. The thrill of hearing da da or ma ma, or the tears of watching them scramble up the steps of the kindergarten bus for the first time and waving goodbye were no different between biological and adoptive.” Lilliput is constantly seeking loving homes for waiting kids. Orientations are offered about once a month, and are informational, with no obligation, to give families an overview. “It’s really informal, casual – it’s not a sales job or an interview,” Morabito said. “Yes, you can say no thank you at any time,” Johnson agreed. Though Lilliput receives some government funding, it needs donations from individuals and businesses to keep offering its myriad of services. A fundraiser on Sept 18 is one way to help. Spikes & Tees, Regional Golf-a-Thon, will be held at Catta Verdera Country Club in Lincoln, and at various golf courses in Northern California. Lilliput Children’s Services Foster care adoption services, post-adoption services What: “Spikes & Tees” Regional Golf-a-Thon, When: Friday, Sept. 18, Where: Catta Verdera Country Club in Lincoln Info: Lilliput.org