Saturday, May 19, 2007

It Takes A Village

Imagine a community where every child had one parent who was able to stay home with them instead of working... because the community gave them $22,000 a year to ensure that they could afford to have one parent at home. Imagine a community where all of the neighbors knew each other well, the parents socialized together, the children went to school and played together, and everyone helped watch over everyone else's children. Imagine a community where surrogate grandparents were available to be a part of every child's life.
Sound sort of old-fashioned? Sound too good to be true?
Now imagine if, in that community, every family had adopted at least one child from foster care.
There really is a community like that. It's called Hope Meadows, and its in Rantoul, Illinois.
Hope Meadows was created after two sociology professors from University of Illinois did research on what happened to children in foster care who were "unadoptable", because they were too old, had too many behavior, medical or psychiatric problems, too many siblings, etc. They found that these kids would spend their entire childhoods bouncing from foster home to foster home, often experiencing rejection wherever they went. They even found that many parents adopted young children from foster care, only to go to court and terminate their own rights to their adopted children a few years later, when the children's problems became too much for the parents to handle.
The professors decided that kids like these needed to have permanent homes, permanent families, and to be surrounded by supportive people who would stick with them for the long run.
And that is the idea behind Hope Meadows.
Hope Meadows is a foster care/adoption agency, but instead of placing children into families all around the community, they place children with families who have volunteered to move into the Hope Meadows community. When the children are placed with the families, the families make a commitment to try to adopt the children. Single parents must take in three children, and married parents must take four or more.
The children are able to go to school in the community, recieve therapy in their own neighborhood, and are able to attend an after-school program and a summer recreation program. Parents in the community provide respite care to each other. And senior citizens are able to live in the community for a low rent rate of $350 per month, in exchange for six hours a month of volunteering with the children. The "grandparents" babysit, tutor, and mentor the kids.
I live in Chicago, and I once met a young woman, Maggie, who was from Hope Meadows. Maggie loved Hope Meadows, and as a teenager had even made the news by petitioning the court to terminate her birth parents' parental rights, so that she could be adopted by her new family at Hope Meadows. She had been abused and neglected by her birth family, and since coming to Hope Meadows, she recognized all the positive changes she was going through. Maggie is now a college student at Yale!
To learn more about Hope Meadows, you might want to read the book, also called Hope Meadows! (By the way, my friend Maggie and her family are featured in the book!

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