Collaborative Learning Empowers Kids to Find Meaningful Opportunities
It’s 8 a.m. on a day late in August, and my team is arriving at Conner Prairie. They are an eclectic group of volunteers: a graphic designer, a pastor, a catering manager, a few non-profit employees, a customer service manager, a retired VP, and a photographer, just to name a few. Most of these people have taken a day off of work to volunteer at the I Belong Project.
Today, Conner Prairie is collaborating with my organization, Indiana Kids Belong. When I say collaborating, it’s not an empty phrase. Conner Prairie’s team is providing space, support, gifts, and admission for 12 kids in foster care, their caseworkers, and my entire team — about 40 people in total. Our goal is to create two-minute interview videos of each child to introduce them to prospective adoptive parent(s). There are several key elements for our video shoots to succeed — fun, space, quiet, time, safety, and a flexible and kid friendly environment. I want to say that Conner Prairie bent over backwards to provide that for us, but honestly, I don’t think they did. I think they already had each of those things in place!
The Foster Care System’s Impact on Children and Families
In 2022, there were 1,914 children adopted out of foster care in Indiana. Children in foster care have been removed from their biological families because of abuse or neglect. The underlying reasons for those situations are too complex to address here, but without a doubt these are parents in crisis with kids caught in the middle. In August of 2023, the median time children in foster care had been out of their homes was 388 days. While kids are in foster care, many supporting organizations are working with both kids and parents to alleviate pressures and provide help for specific needs. The goal is that families will reunite, and kids can return home to safe and healthy parents. In about 20% of cases in Indiana, it is determined that the child(ren) cannot return home safely, and so in most of those situations, adoption becomes an option. Often a family who is currently fostering a child may choose to adopt. Sometimes, a kinship adoption can take place where a relative or someone who is connected to the child can adopt or provide guardianship. Unfortunately, in circumstances where there are several siblings or the age of the child is over 10, it becomes harder to find a willing and suitable adoptive parent (or parents). The Indiana Adoption Program is tasked with recruiting, educating, and training potential adoptive parents to provide loving, healthy, and permanent homes for kids who have — through no fault of their own — suffered and endured many challenges and hurts of all kinds.
How Conner Prairie provides a safe and welcoming place for all children
Our first guest at the I Belong Project arrives nearly an hour early. She is calm and quiet and everyone who speaks with her comments on her sweet spirit. She is 17 years old and that’s really all we know about her when she arrives. Our team jumps into action — her adult “buddy” for the day greets her and works to help her feel safe and comfortable. We find out her interests and what types of activities she might enjoy doing during her visit. As part of our day, we focus on several goals: feeding kids’ bellies with fun snacks and a good lunch, feeding their hearts with attention and encouragement, and feeding their souls with hope for their future and confidence that they can overcome challenges.
The other part of our day – collecting photos and videos of the kids – can sometimes be tricky, which is why a great venue like Conner Prairie can make a huge difference. As a foster parent myself, one of the first things I learned was that providing opportunities for play is a significant part of providing healing for kids who have been through hard things. At any age, play can heal places in a child’s heart that concerned adults just can’t reach. This is where Conner Prairie really shines. Their environments are designed for learning, but they are so hands-on that kids participate in the moment and jump into “play” mode without thinking about it. I love hearing the questions kids ask about all the experiences — it’s all wonder and curiosity and engagement.
Make an impact today
The I Belong Project produces photos and videos that are tools that the Indiana Adoption Program will use to help in the many steps they take to find permanency for each child. We do our best to capture the kids accurately and the videos contain their words only. So often children in foster care have limited input or control over big decisions made in their lives. Our videos give them an opportunity to speak for themselves and then we do our best to amplify their voices to communities all around the state. You can see these videos and learn more about adoption from foster care at the Indiana Kids Belong website.
To learn more or support Conner Prairie’s community initiatives, please contact Emily Hitchcock at firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Author
Bethany Telle, Project Manager at Indiana Kids Belong, is a foster and adoptive mother and took her first step by providing respite for some family friends. She is quick to suggest respite to people interested in fostering or adoption. Bethany is passionate about giving kids from hard places the spotlight and loves hearing kids express themselves and share what is important to them.