I know, I know… is that title like reading another language? Over here – at what we fondly refer to as AmperLand – things are hopping busy… what some kids call “cray cray.”  Let’s look up “cray cray” in the Urban Dictionary, shall we?  Definitions:

  1. Meaning really crazy; The ultimate second power of crazy.
  2. A desperate attempt to say “crazy” made by some adult trying to be cool.

Uh, wait… I didn’t mean to put that second definition in there… Ignore #2, folks. Really.

Let’s move on. My intent is to give everyone a newsy update.  We’re so grateful to our Ampersand supporters, and there is a lot going on. So allow me to fill you in.

Ampersand Families has successfully secured permanent families for 43 older youth. This includes 28 finalized adoptions, 9 youth in pre-adopt families or in transition to their new families, and 6 youth in alternative types of permanency.  Currently, we’re working with an additional 23 young people to help find them permanent families, and are in the process of shepherding in 4 more youth referrals.  This is a staggering number, considering the time-intensive nature of our work.  Last year at this time, as a comparison, we were recruiting families for 17 teens and preteens – a 35% increase in youth referrals from one year ago.

But, if the numbers sound small to you, be assured that our lean team is doing magic everyday with teens that others have given up on. Forty-three is indeed a big number – big enough to change lives and to restore hope.  And, incidentally, big enough to save the community a lot of money in foster care costs. It is estimated that the community nets a savings of over $140,000 per child, in foster care costs alone, for those who are adopted as opposed to remaining in foster care (Barth et al., 2006).  You do the math.

We also have a whole new group of incoming prospective adoptive families right now, and are in the middle of another pre-adoption training session.  Currently, 16 families are either getting their needed training through Ampersand, or have completed all of the pre-adoption paperwork/training steps and are actively looking for a youth to adopt.  Compared to the 8 families who were in this situation last year at this time, you can see why I say we’re pretty darn busy over here!

That’s why we’re in the midst of hiring another frontline staffer right now – a Permanency Specialist to do direct work with kids and families. We’ll keep a close eye on numbers over the coming year and will continue to hire as needed.

Community outreach is also important to us. One important way that our message has been able to reach over 40,000 community members in the metro area in 2014 alone is through the Minnesota Heart Gallery exhibit.  As many of you know, the Heart Gallery, a community outreach project of Ampersand Families, raises adoption awareness and gives voice to the many older youth in foster care looking for an adoptive family.  Harnessing the talents of more than 200 volunteer professional photographers, this traveling exhibit features personality-capturing photographs of children and youth awaiting adoption in Minnesota.  Heart Gallery photos are also available in an online virtual gallery.

By the way, if you know of a professional Minnesota photographer who might like to volunteer for the Heart Gallery, please send them our way. We couldn’t do this fabulous work without them.

Since January, the Heart Gallery has received a staggering 61 referrals to provide free professional photo shoots to children and teens awaiting adoption; this includes 11 sibling groups! When compared to the 30 Heart Gallery referrals received January-May 2013, it’s easy to understand that this program is very popular and needed among child welfare professionals – and the youth they serve.  And, the Heart Gallery website receives about 16,000 individual page views per month!  Wow.

In the past, I’ve shared important news about the longitudinal study on teen adoption that we’re spearheading.  Here’s the scoop on that: As many of you know, over the past 10 years there has been a nationwide push to get teens adopted.  Anecdotally, of course, we see that teen adoption is valuable for kids and communities.  However, there is no existing primary research on outcomes that determine success or failure of this effort.  Our collaboration with Wilder Research to develop the first-ever longitudinal study on the outcomes of teen adoption is so important.  This research will address the significant gap between what the field knows and what it ought to know about how youth and families are faring in the long-term, and allow agencies to provide more effective preparation, training and support to families and youth in an appropriate and timely manner.  We’re excited to announce that the research design phase of this project is nearing completion.  Stay tuned in the months ahead to hear more.

We’ve also had a bit of media attention lately.  The most recent article on Ampersand Families, “Bridging Foster Care and Adoption,” appeared in Insight News. We’re grateful to Insight News for their interest in our mission! The upcoming Spring issue of the Charities Review Council’s The Smart Giver will feature an article on Ampersand’s efforts at diversity and inclusivity – look for that coming out soon. This week, we’re doing an interview with Lake of the Isles magazine about Ampersand’s mission and work.  And last week, I took a call from the Minneapolis Star Tribune related to a Father’s Day story they’re doing.  We’ll see if that pans out, but it’s an example of how – every month, it seems – we’re talking to the media about adoption and teens.  Keeping the issue of permanency on the media radar is an important way that we continue to bring prospective adoptive families through the teen adoption door.

I’m also looking ahead at the National CASA Conference, where I’ll be heading off to Texas to present a workshop on June 8th titled, Advocating for Permanency: Fulfilling Our Promise to Teens. “CASA” stands for court-appointed special advocate, and the mission of the National CASA Association is to support and promote court-appointed volunteer advocacy so that every abused or neglected child can be safe, establish permanence and have the opportunity to thrive.

Whew… that’s it for now! That’s enough, eh?

A big THANKS to all of you for your support over the past year.  Truly, we couldn’t do this work without you.

Here’s to hope!

Jen Braun

Co-Founder & Co-Executive Officer

Ampersand in the News

About Me Sydnee is the Minnesota Heart Gallery Coordinator and a professional photographer by trade, coming to Ampersand with a love for photography, story-telling and youth. Sydnee holds dual degrees in both photography and English, which includes a bachelor’s degree from Concordia University in St. Paul and an associate’s degree from Minneapolis Community & Technical College. Her attention to detail, dedication to forming relationships and networking, passion for youth and excitement for new ideas makes her a great addition to the team at Ampersand Families.

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