Child adoption efforts highlight need for parents, high number of teens in system

Case workers for Saint Francis Ministries deliver gifts to an adoptive family in Wichita to celebrate National Adoption Month. (Submitted to Kansas Reflector)

Jeremy Allison-Murphy and his wife, Liz, knew they wanted to adopt JP as soon as they saw his video.

The 13-year-old was one of hundreds of Kansas children in need of adoption, most of whom are teenagers. Allison-Murphy, who works for the Kansas Department for Children and Families, said the couple wanted to give an older child a chance.

Allison-Murphy said he and his wife were relieved to complete the process earlier this month, as part of a celebration of National Adoption Day. JP was relieved, too.

“I would tell all kids who are waiting for adoption that you’re worth it,” JP said. “So, keep trying.”

KVC Kansas and Saint Francis Ministries contract with DCF for child placement services, including foster care and adoptions.

For National Adoption Day on Nov. 21, KVC helped facilitate the finalization of 15 adoptions, including JP, at the Shawnee County Courthouse. The process was conducted virtually, Allison-Murphy said, which made things less stressful.

“I just think going to court is kind of a more stressful environment,” Allison-Murphy said. “It was nice doing it from the comfort of our home.”

Adoption agency officials say teenagers make up the majority of children who need to be adopted out of the foster care system.

Traci Rasmussen, adoption supervisor for KVC Kansas’ east region, said there are currently close to 900 kids in need of adoption, with more than 5,000 children in foster care in Kansas.

“We are really needing people to adopt teenagers, kids ages 15 through 18,” Rasmussen said. “We really need to find forever homes for these kids.”

KVC facilitates about 500 adoptions annually. Rasmussen said the number of kids in need of adoption in Kansas is higher this year than other years, and that a lot of factors go into the number of adoptable children at any given point in time.

“I think that number will stay the same if not increase as the pandemic goes on,” Rasmussen said. “Prior to the pandemic, I’d say we would have 10 to 15 kids each month.”

Michael Turner and his wife, April, finalized the adoption for their son, 4-year-old Michael Jr. Turner, whose family includes multiple adopted children, said he appreciated the streamlined process for finalizing the adoption, even though COVID-19 caused a lot of delays.

“This time we were able to submit our documents electronically, which was much simpler than when we finalized our other adopted children,” Turner said.

Rasmussen said her agency ran into some issues earlier in the year when the Kansas Supreme Court and appellate court system was closed due to pandemic precautions. She said that left some adoption cases stuck in the appeals process, with no way to advance. She said it has been a trickle-down effect, in which a delay of appellate procedures has led to some issues with newer kids that are freshly available for adoption.

“I feel bad for kids and families that really want to get this done and have to wait,” Rasmussen said.

Shawnee County District Judge Rachel Pickering is one of five judges who volunteered to preside over adoption proceedings. She said when the pandemic first began, adoptions were finalized via telephone hearings. Since then, the hearings have been done virtually, or in person with a limited number of people entering the courtroom.

Pickering said the broad range of issues that arise from these types of cases do not stop with a pandemic, but days that include adoption hearings are filled with smiling children.

“The children are not only excited to be part of a forever family, but they are also able to hear the judge announce their new legal name,” Pickering said.

Kristie MacMeeken, adoption director for Saint Francis Ministries, said there are currently 115 to 130 children who are in need of a loving home in the region she oversees, which includes central and western parts of the state. MacMeeken said that number increases as other portions of Kansas are included.

Saint Francis Ministries held a gift delivery event in Wichita for adoptive families as part of National Adoption Day, as well as other events throughout November for National Adoption Month.

Rasmussen said it is free to adopt a child — there are no out-of-pocket expenses for prospective parents. KVC Kansas pays for all attorney fees, and the agency provides free training and online classes for people interested in becoming adoptive parents.

“I think people think it’s a really difficult process but it’s not,” Rasmussen said. “You can be married, single, LGBTQ+, we don’t discriminate. We will work with people.”

Turner said he wanted to adopt from the very beginning. He said he and his wife started as foster parents to older children first, including kids on the autism spectrum, and ended up adopting those kids. He said he could relate to some of the older kids in foster care, as his father was adopted, and he lived through some trauma and hardships in his own childhood.

“We treat them just like they are part of our family,” Turner said. “If you’re in my household, you’re doing everything with us.”