Melinda Lis, Vice President of The Academy for Family Support and Preservation at Spaulding, Honored with 2020 National Adoption Excellence Award from The Children’s Bureau
SOUTHFIELD, Mich., Nov. 19, 2020 – The Children’s Bureau at HHS Administration for Children and Families has awarded its 2020 National Adoption Excellence Award to Melinda Lis, Spaulding for Children Vice President of The Academy for Family Support and Preservation. Ms. Lis received the honor Tuesday, Nov. 17 at the 2020 National Adoption Month Celebration.
The 2020 Adoption Excellence Award was made in recognition of Ms. Lis’ professional work to increase the number of children from foster care who are adopted or placed in other permanent homes.
Part of the Federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Administration for Children & Families (ACF), the Children’s Bureau (CB) works with federal, state, tribal and local agencies to improve the overall health and well-being of our nation’s children and families.
“Melinda Lis has motivated and inspired the child welfare community and people around her to accomplish more than they would have normally,” Cristina Peixoto, President/CEO of Spaulding for Children, said. “With the right mix of positivity, the amazing ability to tap into other’s strengths and thinking outside of the box, Melinda has successfully contributed to inform and transform the views and understanding about the role played by child welfare systems and communities in supporting post permanency family.”
The adoption excellence awards given each year by the Children’s Bureau to recognize individuals and families who, and organizations that, have demonstrated excellence in making contributions to providing permanency for children in foster care. Professional peers nominate individuals and organizations. Families also can make nominations.
“This is a great honor for me, but also is a great honor for our staff,” Ms. Lis said. “We have dedicated our lives to working in child welfare. Today there are approximately 122,000 children awaiting adoption – about 3,000 of whom are in Michigan. So, we have more work to do and many more people to help.”
Melinda Lis started her career with Spaulding in July 2013 as the Vice President of the Spaulding Academy for Family Support and Preservation, where she continues to play leadership roles on three federal projects through the Children’s Bureau.
Normally held before an in-person audience in Washington, D.C., this year’s National Adoption Month Celebration was webcast live on Tuesday, Nov. 17. This year’s National Adoption Month theme, “Engage Youth: Listen and Learn,” highlights the importance of listening to young people and learning from them ways to support their path to permanency.
The ceremony featured HHS Secretary Alex M. Azar II, Lynn Johnson, Assistant Secretary for ACF, Elizabeth Darling, Commissioner, ACF/Children’s Bureau, Jerry Milner, Associate Commissioner of the Children’s Bureau at ACF and June Dorn, National Adoption Specialist, ACF/Children’s Bureau.
The awardees include families who have adopted children from foster care; child welfare professionals working to improve permanency outcomes for children; and individuals and organizations who use their resources and connections to strengthen outcomes for children and youth adopted from foster care.
Members of the Spaulding for Children team have been recognized by The Children’s Bureau at Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families a number of times. Recipients include:
- Addie Williams, then President/CEO of Spaulding, was recognized in 2016 for professional leadership and pioneering work with special needs adoption.
- Natalie Lyons and the National Resource Center for Adoption were recognized in 2012 for professional leadership and honored with the Centennial Adoption Excellence Awards.
- Paul VanderVelde, who served as a member of Spaulding’s National Resource Center for Special Needs Adoption, was honored in 2006 for devoting his professional life to improving the lives of vulnerable children and families, in particular abuse and neglected children in the foster care system.
- Drenda Lakin, then Vice President at Spaulding for Children, was honored in 2004 for her leadership in special needs adoption and contributions to the profession of child welfare.
About Spaulding for Children
Spaulding for Children is a national leader in developing and providing resources and training for foster and adoptive families and those who serve and support them. Started in 1968 with the belief that every child is adoptable, Spaulding brought attention to foster children with special needs. Today Spaulding provides research-based training and education for those interested in becoming adoptive and foster parents in addition to service contracts and partnership projects funded through the Michigan DHHS and the Children’s Bureau and parenting and preventive support program for young women who are pregnant or young mothers between the ages of 13-24 children with risk factors for child abuse and neglect. Spaulding for Children prevention program includes assistance, coaching and mentoring for the most vulnerable parents and have achieved a significant success rate in keeping families intact.
On August 26, 2020 Spaulding for Children presented a webinar:
Watch the video as our facilitated panel of three Black transracial adoptees shared their experiences and real-talk about how the increased momentum surrounding Black Lives Matters impacts Black and Brown adoptees raised in White families in America.
The panel highlighted information that professionals working in the child welfare field as well as adoptive parents need to understand related to the intersectionality of adoption and race and its life-long impact.
Michigan Science Center brings wonders of the universe and live experiments directly into your living room. Log on to MiSci’s ECHO Distance Learning Studio, Mondays through Fridays at 2:30 p.m.
While public libraries have been approved to re-open in Michigan. several public libraries are open online. And many have made their extensive collections of ebooks and movies available for download. Some also have special online programming and book groups for kids — and grown-ups, too.
Southfield Public Library website is open with e-books, audio books, movies, music, children’s resources and many research sources at www.southfieldlibrary.org. SPL plans to reopen in phases. One of the first phases will be with phone service and material pickup at the drive-through window. They will post information when this service is ready on their website and social media pages.
Yoga with Maya. Mondays through Sundays at 5 p.m. Click here for directions for 30-minute, password-protected Zoom sessions.
Animal Lessons from Detroit Zoo. Discover amazing animals and learn online.
Coloring Through the City. A fun way to explore Detroit is the downloadable Detroit Parks Coloring Book brought to you by Detroit Riverfront Conservancy. The book is made possible by the teams at Eastern Market, the Belle Isle Conservancy, Downtown Detroit Partnership, and the City of Detroit.
The time is special for children and adults who enjoy hearing a good story. Click here to catch the program Mondays at 7 p.m.
Katie Ward soon will celebrate nearly 10 years as a professional serving in foster care and adoption. She has served more than three years with Spaulding for Children.
While in college Katie was headed to a criminal justice degree when she took a class in juvenile justice that changed the course of her life.
“I could not believe what these kids had gone through,” Katie said. “And I knew I needed to help.”
Katie cites her own great childhood for her love of kids. She adds it may be difficult for people to understand that many children today do not receive the unconditional support that they did growing up.
Katie is one of 7 children. And, today, she is raising two children. She also has a large extended family.
“I know that everyone just wants to be seen, heard and supported,” Katie said.
At Spaulding Katie works as an adoption specialist. It is her job to find adoptive families for youth in foster care whose parental rights have been terminated.
To locate a family, Katie works her network of agencies and contacts foster families and other relatives of the child. She works with MARE, the Michigan Adoption Resource Exchange, where she develops an online profile of the child and then attends recruitment events.
Currently, Katie is most excited to report that she has identified a family for a youth who has been in foster care longer than anyone in the state. The young person is approaching his 17th birthday and has several developmental challenges.
While in the residential placement he received several support therapies from occupational to counseling which have been invaluable. Not all residential centers have such extensive services.
“When a couple adopts an older child, they miss the teething and learning to ride a bike phase, but they get to be instrumental in helping someone become an adult,” Katie said. “These parents can teach things like learning to drive, applying for a job, how to present themselves in an interview, order and tip in a restaurant, laundry, cooking – all the skills he/she will need to be independent. And, of course, how to find and cultivate their passion.”
While Katie is awaiting finalization of this adoption, she states that the hardest part of her work is telling a child that a family they have been visiting with does not in fact want to move forward with the auditorium.
Adoption workers like Katie spend months with a prospective family before introducing the child. She teaches them that children in foster care, despite the challenges they have faced that led them to be in care, have had training that will be beneficial to them – and their next family.
Families are taught coping and mindfulness skills. Finally, families looking into adoption receive additional support from Spaulding, both before and after the adoption. There are also support groups for adoptive families to help them on their journey.
“I would love to think about a day when my services would not be needed,” Katie said. “But until that day, I’ll be here.”
Enjoy being with Katie online at Storytime with Miss Katie each Monday at 7 p.m., live on Spaulding’s Facebook page: www.facebook.com/spauldingforchildren
The National Family Preservation Network has outlined principles of Intensive Family Preservation Services. These services are designed to support families in which children are either at imminent risk of placement or have been placed outside their homes.
Principles in Working with Families
- The family is the best resource for the nurture, care, and well-being of children.
- The most durable way to help children is to help their parents.
- Keeping families safely together, whenever possible, must be the highest priority of government laws, policies, and funding.
- Because the integrity of the family is critical to its functioning, services to families must primarily focus on keeping families together or reunifying families when out-of-home placement is necessary.
- Families must be assessed for strengths as well as weaknesses. Strengths can be used to help address weaknesses.
- Families must be involved in decisions about every aspect of an intervention: safety, assessment, goals, services, progress, placement (if necessary), and outcomes.
- Families must be empowered through services, not kept dependent on them. Services should be provided only until the family is stabilized and has the necessary skills to remain safely together. Families can then choose whether or not they want additional services.
- We owe families the best possible services at the lowest cost to whoever is paying for the services. All services must be evaluated for their effectiveness and cost-benefit.
Click here for more information from the National Family Preservation Network.
When a catastrophe happens, when a child is forced to be removed from his or her home, the State turns to agencies like Spaulding to temporarily take care of the safety and well-being of that child. From the moment a child walks in to our care, our main goal is to reunify the child and his family. When the child is returned with his or her family, this process is called reunification.
Spaulding’s goal is to reunite children with their families. Foster care serves as a temporary placement for a child while the parent(s) addresses the issues that led to the child’s out of home care. When a child is removed from the home, Spaulding communicates to parents their rights while the child is in foster care and they also communicate with foster (resource) families about their role, responsibilities and rights.
When the birth family works closely with the foster family and the Agency, the child can feel more secure. And while they may not completely understand, children can sense when the grown-ups are working on their behalf to transition back to their birth family home.
Spaulding for Children supports the family, both birth families and foster (resource) families, to rectify any issues that have caused a child to be removed from the birth home. We also serve as a bridge between birth and foster families, helping the families develop a supportive relationship on behalf of the child.
Despite the challenges presented with virtual court hearings during COVID, Spaulding worked with another agency to reunite a mother with her two children. The process of family reunification is strengthened by community involvement. Child welfare and social service professionals encourage all members of a community, even those who are not foster parents, should learn about the needs of families with children in foster care and how one can help support the family’s reunification efforts.
When a child is successfully reunited with his or her family, everyone sees the child welfare system at its finest!
Melissa S. Jenovai, LMSW, Vice President of Child and Family Services, Spaulding for Children, served as a resource for this article.
Click here to learn more about Family Reunification.
Her kids call Ms. Allen, “Aunty Mary.” She has adopted four and fostered more than 30 children through the years, including two teen girls who were reunited with their father.
Ms. Allen works side by side with birth parents – but always on the kids’ side – doing what is in their best interest. Yet, even after reunification, the connection with Aunty Mary does not stop.
“I’m here for all my kids,” Ms. Allen said. “They are always in my life.”
Aunty Mary provided foster care and then helped reunify two teenage girls with their single father. She helped the girls understand the complicated family dynamics. After the girls were reunified with their dad, Ms. Allen permitted the girls to stay with her during the week to attend their school. Her support to this family after the reunification helped to sustain the family unit.
At Aunty Mary’s home, the kids get lots of love – and are taught responsibilities, including chores. Upon completing their chores, they receive an allowance. The child’s most important responsibility in her home is school.
“Education is Priority #1,” Ms. Allen said. “Homework is not optional.” Ms. Allen goes to her kids’ schools and talks to each of their teachers. Teachers very much appreciate her active presence. Her kids also appreciate her involvement.
Knowledge is key, Ms. Allen said. What children learn in school is what they need to move forward in life. What children need to learn in the home, she adds, is they are loved – just for being who they are.
Even though the girls have been reunified with their family, they continue to feel the love Aunty Mary gives to them. Today the girls often call her and ask if they can come by for a sleep-over. They continue to receive gifts on their birthdays and they are in contact by phone frequently.
We asked our families: “How are you doing?” Here are a some of their stories about challenges and resilience during the national emergency wrought by coronavirus/COVID-19.
Mary Harvey, with school aged kids, took in a child who needed replacement during this time. Jolika Welbourne is waiting patiently to finalize an adoption as courts remain closed. Julie McKelvey is helping a 4-year-old understand why everything has changed.
One family added a new member during the state’s “Stay-Home, Stay-Safe” order issued March 13 by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to curb the spread of the pandemic.
Mary Harvey took in a child who needed re-placement, the 2-year-old brother of a 3-year-old child already in her care as a foster mother. She also is mom to several other school-aged kids in the home. So far, everyone has stayed inside the house and yard.
“We are doing OK,” Ms. Harvey said. “We go play outside nearly every day unless weather is bad. The kids understand the virus. I wear a mask when I go out.”
The school lent them Chromebook computer tablets. Teachers work with kids online 30-45 minutes every day. The school provides lunches each day. The kids also enjoy reading books for fun.
The national emergency has prevented one of the boys from seeing his biological mother during a visit. However, they do talk by telephone and computer.
“We miss going to the park and outings like skating, and the kids miss their friends and group activities,” Ms. Harvey said. “But while we are isolated, we are playing and enjoying each other.”
Ms. Harvey looks forward to participating in online SFC parent meetings. She said the family is grateful to Spaulding for Children for the hand-made masks which were delivered to them. She also appreciates the help Spaulding provided to arrange for a bed to be delivered to the home when the stores were closed.
One Michigan educator had her hands full as a Kindergarten teacher during normal times.
Today, Jolika Welborne still has her hands full conducting school from home, a house today filled with her own young children.
Yet, somehow, the clock seems to move slowly: Ms. Welbourne is waiting to finalize an adoption.
Presently Ms. Welborne has “adoption supervisor rights” for the 2 and 3 year-old children. (This means that the court is allowing the family to act as parent to the child, but she does not have the “right” until the adoption is finalized.) The paperwork was turned in for processing late in February of this year. Now, it’s likely sitting on a desk somewhere.
“The waiting is not too bad, because the children are young,” Ms. Welborne said. “They don’t know it was supposed to have come through already. We had a celebration trip to Disney planned, which we don’t know if and when that can be rescheduled. Luckily, that was a surprise too.”
During the Covid-19 pandemic, they are all at home. The children receive lunches from school, which helps because their days also are filled with more cooking than ever with everyone home.
As a Kindergarten teacher, Ms. Welborne makes certain the children have full days, too. They all enjoy activities planned for each day, from drawing to books.
Ms. Welborne previously adopted the children’s sister. The family looks forward to a very special day.
“I imagine if you are older and awaiting the ‘paperwork,’ as my other child calls the finalized adoption, then it could be stressful,” Ms. Welborne said. “They live for that day.”
What will change, once the adoption comes through, depends, Ms. Welborne said.
“I can change their names at preschool,” Ms. Welborne said. “It’s confusing to them when they call out a last name different from mine. Also, with finalization comes peace of mind and security. It’s good to know that it will be official, and we will be a forever family.”
Julie McKelvey is trying to help a 4-year-old understand why everything has changed.
“We know the rules and the reason for the Stay at Home orders,” Ms. McKelvey said. “But, kids don’t understand why school stopped; why friends can’t come over; why the parks are closed; why they can’t go out with their parents.”
And If you are 4 years old, this frustration is going to come out somehow, Ms. McKelvey shared. Adding she had noted her daughter’s behavior has been more challenging since the Stay at Home order.
“Because of her asthma, I don’t take her anywhere,” Ms. McKelvey said. “These youngsters have been through so much before they came into our homes. We had a weekly therapy session for her before this and she continues it now online. Some days she’s just had enough, and her behavior shows it. She can scream it out and even potty-training skills suffer.”
The days have been quite different for all in the family’s home, compared to the way life was in March. Ms. McKelvey’s husband, who normally works nights, is now at home too. “He’s frustrated and waiting to get called back to work in the coming weeks,” Ms. McKelvey said.
Even though it’s temporary, the family has had to access services to help them – which means lots of forms, filings, and waiting on the phone.
“We are hoping for our August vacation and then getting our daughter back in school,” Ms. McKelvey said. “I tell my husband, ‘This will come to an end and we will get through it.’”
Many of our families are out of work. Some have family members who are sick and need additional care. And kids at home are requiring more supervision and oversight.
And for many of our families, the regular support services they count on are interrupted.
But at Spaulding we have not forgotten our families. We have just modified how we support them.
And you can help
What We are Doing to Help Our Families
- Moved our support groups and trainings to virtual meetings.
- Weekly check-in calls with families to assess well-being and to determine needs.
- Made face masks available for families and continue to source more. In addition to allowing parents to go out when needed, masks allow for in-person parent and child visits.
- Have set up deliveries ranging from food to gift cards and laptop computers to some of our most needy families.
- Hosting activities for youngsters including virtual dance classes, as well as Monday night book readings, daily 30-minute yoga sessions on Facebook
- Launching a virtual tutoring program for our families.
How You Can Help
- Donations of any dollar amount will help us continue to supply families with additional resources and necessary supplies.
- In Kind donations of gift cards (Kroger’s, Meijer’s, Target, Walmart, etc.)
- Spread the word to friends and family who might want to help.
Spaulding for Children
Phone: 248 443 0300
Fax: 248 443 7099