It was a sad day in Nebraska when families felt so unsupported and ill-equipped as parents that they dropped off their children at ERs," said Ruth Henrichs, president and CEO of Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska. The state's safe haven law captured national attention in 2008. Desperate parents dropped off 35 children (a disproportionate number were adopted foster children, including teens) at safe sites statewide.
What this revealed was a significant need for post-adoption services, particularly for families of older children with mental health issues. Research bears this out as well, say leaders of the Lutheran agency.
Enter Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska and the Nebraska Children's Home Society, which together developed Right Turn, a program that in January 2010 began offering 24/7 support and services for any family that adopts a foster child.
Funded by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, Right Turn has six permanency support specialists and three clinicians who offer six core services: intensive case management, mental health referrals, respite care, training and education, support groups and peer mentoring.
With a $1.2 million budget, Right Turn has proven effective in improving stability for children previously in foster care. It won the 2011 Excellence in Adoption Award from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. As of September 2012, Right Turnhas served 577 families and 1,181 children. Of those families, only two ended their parenting commitment.
When she called Right Turn for help managing her son Paris' behavior, Mary's (last names withheld) stress level was "pretty high," recalled Mark Bryant, the family's permanency placement specialist. "By the time [families] reach our program it's like 'Get this kid out of here.' What they're really saying is, 'I really don't want him to go, but I need some help managing his behavior.' "
Mary, 57, and Paris, now 17, have been together since he was 3 weeks old. She adopted him and another son, Javier, 16, when they were 3. But by third grade it was clear that Paris had mental health issues. A psychiatrist diagnosed him with bipolar and schizoaffective disorders.
As time passed, things grew worse. "Happy and laughing one minute and screaming and yelling the next," Mary said.
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