By Melanie Williams
Victoria is a 15-year-old Latina who reads religiously and loves pets. Cats and dogs are great companions, she says, but she wouldn’t mind having a monkey, either. She dreams of living in a Victorian house, maybe with solar panels, she muses, and a huge bedroom with a queen-sized bed.
In her mind, the perfect family would have all these things, but for now, Victoria will have to make do with the twin-size bed that she’s grown accustomed to. She is a part of the DCF Heart Gallery, and she desperately wants a foster family to love and support her, and maybe even adopt her one day.
“The only thing I want is a caring and loving family,” she said in her gallery video.
Upon viewing the Heart Gallery page, you are greeted with a collage of children, just like Victoria, flashing their best smiles in hopes that a family will be intrigued enough to click their picture.
The Heart Gallery features children in the most vulnerable state – what Ken Mysogland, director of foster care and adoption, refers to as “the hardest to place.” These children are products of traumatic backgrounds in which neither their parents nor relatives are able to take care of them.
Behind each smile is a biography of the child, along with a video of them explaining in their own words their hopes and desires of their dream homes and families. The children anxiously point out their best characteristics while hoping their words will capture the heart of a family that will welcome them into their home. Some children in the gallery even ask for parents who speak Spanish, hoping for a chance to form a connection through a shared culture.
“We want to make a match that has a child placed in a home that reflects their culture and also characteristics of that child. We know it’s best for children to be placed in homes similar to their background because each kid comes with a unique set of behaviors,” Mysogland said.
Some, like Victoria, speak a bit of Spanish, but communicate primarily in English. Others, like 14-year-old Noemi, would love to have a family she can speak Spanish with and learn more about Latin culture from.
Fortunately, he said, the gallery has proven to be a successful tactic with placing children in homes. While there is little statistical data to prove the success rate, Mysogland has seen firsthand the families that have found their children from the gallery.
“The kids represented in the gallery are the ones who are most in need of homes. They are the most disconnected from family members and haven’t been placed in homes,” he said.
Currently, there are 4,000 children in and out of home care in Connecticut, and 32 percent are Latino. While this number seems staggering, it has decreased within the last two years. Mysogland attributes the lower statistic of children in home care to the efforts under Commissioner Joette Katz. According to Mysogland, Katz has been instrumental in “shifting the mindset and the focus” on services to families.
DCF has a number of services to aid families through difficult times based on issues such as mental health, domestic violence, and substance abuse. It also serves as an aid to guide the families through difficult periods, as opposed to taking custody of the child without guidance.
“All families need help at some point in their life. We want to not just focus on the problem but also the solution,” Mysogland said.
Ideally, DCF tries to connect a child to a close relative in an effort to keep their culture and natural surroundings familiar. Currently, more than 30 percent of children are placed with relatives. However, for the roughly 4,000 children in needs of homes, that option is not a possibility.
The good news is that, according to the U.S. Children’s Bureau Adoption and Foster Care, the percent of public agency adoption by Hispanic parents has increased every year between 2002 and 2010 to 15.5 percent.
While there have been studies that report drug abuse, bad parenting skills, recent history of arrest, and high family stress as factors in why an increasing number of Latino children are entering foster care, Mysogland said he cannot confirm if those traits are accurate of the Latino community, specifically. However, he does credit substance abuse, domestic violence, untreated mental illnesses and poverty as some of the top reasons of children being placed in foster care for the overall population.
Although these children are offered a wide array of services while in custody, ranging from one on one counseling, day treatment programs, school programs, and counseling focused on trauma and separation loss, Mysogland confidently said that what the Heart Gallery children really need is a loving home.
“These kids go to bed every night yearning to wake up in a home,” said Mysogland.
This isn’t just a job to Mysogland, who is a DCF veteran who has worked within the department for 23 years. He has also lived with his eight adopted siblings and has seen firsthand how a loving family has made an impact on not only their lives, but his life as well.
The most important thing is to find families who love kids and want to give them loving homes, he said.
Mysogland encourages interested families and individuals to view the website and read the common myths about adopting, myths such as needing to be a homeowner, needing two parents in the household, and needing one parent to be a stay at home parent, are common myths that refrain people from thinking they are not eligible to adopt a child.
For more information, please visit www.ctfosteradopt.com or call 888-kid-hero to receive more information or start the licensing process.