October 5, 2011

Lund’s Adoption Director Receiving National Award

Posted in Adoption, Foster Care Program, Project Family at 12:08 pm by Lund

We are so proud to announce Wanda Audette, Lund’s Director of Adoption Services, and Vermont Adoption Chief Diane Dexter were given a top national award on October 12th for their partnership on Project Family. Check out the articles in the Burlington Free Press, The Other Paper, Vermont Public Radio and Times Argus:

Burlington Free Press, “Vermont adoption leaders receive national awards”

The Other Paper, “Audette Achieves Top Honors in D.C. for Foster Care Reform”

Vermont Public Radio, “Two Vermonters To Be Honored In D.C. For Adoption Work”

(article from Times Argus pasted below)

Vermont adoption program garners national recognition

Jeb Wallace-Brodeur / Times Argus Staff Photo

Diane Dexter and her adopted daughter, Olivia, 15, relax at their home in East Calais on Wednesday. Dexter, the Vermont Adoption Chief, and fellow Vermonter Wanda Audette, the Lund Family Center adoption director, are being honored with the national Health and Human Services 2011 Adoption Excellence Award. Only 18 people nationwide have been selected to receive these top honors.

By Daniel Staples
Staff Writer – Published: September 30, 2011

MONTPELIER – Eleven years ago, Vermont Adoption Chief Diane Dexter and Lund Family Center Adoption Director Wanda Audette looked at a list of 93 children in state custody who had been deemed “unadoptable.”

The two women agreed: “There are no ‘unadoptable’ children, just unfound families.” They then made it their mission to place those children with loving parents. And they did, finding adoptive families for 92 of those children. Since then, Project Family has found permanent families for 329 “older” children – age 9 or older – who had been deemed “unadoptable.”

That same year, Project Family was launched. Project Family is a unique partnership initiative between the Lund Family Center and the Department for Children and Family (DCF) with the mission of recruiting and supporting adoptive families for children in foster care.

Now the two women have received national attention for their work, and on Oct. 12, Dexter and Audette will travel to Washington, D.C., to receive a Health and Human Services 2011 Adoption Excellence Award. Only 18 people nationwide have been selected to receive this top honor.

Both women are humbly reluctant to take credit for the advances made in the state’s adoptive system and are quick to point out that the work is a team effort.

“I’m really happy Vermont is being recognized for the work that was being done,” said Dexter. “But it’s Project Family and DCF social workers that make it work. (The award) really belongs to all of the agencies.”

“I was shocked and very excited and privileged to be recognized,” said Audette. “We have fabulous staff … without (them) we would not be able to do the work that we do.”

“It’s pretty exciting to have people at the national level say that you are doing really great work and that you are making strides,” said Audette.

Finding a family

Through Project Family, Dexter and Audette implemented a more rigorous regimen for social workers that made finding children permanent homes the top priority.

Dexter said that in the mid-Nineties the state began to look at kids that were not being adopted and then began tracking that pool of children that were not being placed in adoptive families. At that time, there were about 300 children on that list.

“We were finding a few families, but not really finding enough families,” said Dexter. “The biggest achievement for Project Family is that we have made this problem a focus (for the organization).”

The two women implemented a system that required each child in DCF custody to receive attention on a regular and consistent basis. DCF social workers now set a day and time when they can meet with the director and supervisor to talk about cases where permanent placement is needed.

Children get one social worker that sees them through the stages of adoption, explained Dexter. The worker councils the child and a prospective family, slowly introduces that child to the new family, and then finalizes the adoption.

Audette said there are five Project Family staff members placed in DCF offices around the state, and they have the responsibility of working alongside DCF workers. The Project Family and DCF staff is responsible for child-specific family recruitment.

“They look at what kind of family will be most successful for each of the children,” said Audette.

Project Family staff also works to support the adoptive families to make sure they have the training and support that they need to be successful, explained Audette.

By using a partnership with private and government agencies, Dexter and Audette have been able to reduce the average time before a child moves from foster care from an average of two years to about six months.

Dexter said that cutting the time a child stays in foster care creates a drastic savings for the state. The average cost of foster care is about $30,000 a year, whereas the post-adoption costs are less than $9,000.

Dexter said that Project Family is currently responsible for finding permanent homes for approximately 150 children a year. She also said that finding permanent homes for children does not always mean finding adoptive families.

“Our primary goal is to get the children back to the family they came from,” said Dexter. If this is not an option, then the Project Family and DCF staff looks to the extended family, such as grandparents or aunts and uncles.”

“We’re looking for the village to raise a child, not the state,” said Dexter.

Tough but rewarding work

“It’s not work. It’s a way of life and a service that our staff provides from the heart,” said Audette. “The kids are so appreciative. You can work hard all day and then look at the photo of a child and say, ‘We can’t quit. There are kids that don’t have a family.'”

“My goal is to make sure kids have an unconditional relationship,” said Audette. “You just make sure you keep going.”

Audette recalled one instance where she had finalized the adoption of 16-year-old boy just two weeks before Christmas. After the paperwork was complete, the young man came to her and said, “I don’t need one more gift in my entire life because you got me a family that I will have forever.”

Dexter said that she grew up on a farm outside a major metropolitan area and that she and her father would bring vegetables from their farm to a local orphanage. Dexter said she always felt bad for the kids at the orphanage because they only had a small area of asphalt as an outdoor play area.

Dexter said that she told herself, “When I get big, I’m going to have a big farm and I’m going to adopt them all.”

“I have been doing this work for 20 years and have never been bored a single day,” said Dexter. “Some days when I get paid, I tell my supervisor (in disbelief), ‘And you pay me, too.'”

“I am extremely lucky to work in a state where it doesn’t matter who’s in the governor’s office – they support the program and the program’s work.”

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