“Permanency is Not on Hold”: Creative Solutions for Matching During COVID-19
By Kristine Lewis, SWAN LSI Paralegal
Social distancing guidelines may have temporarily altered how Pennsylvania is conducting adoptions in 2020, but it has not slowed the progress of the Statewide Adoption and Permanency Network (SWAN). Matching events, like so many other gatherings, were forced to move to an alternative format due to the outbreak of COVID-19. Regardless, the Pennsylvania Adoption Exchange (PAE) is excited about family-child connections continuing to be made and the future opportunities that virtual matching meetings present for waiting children.
Since March, PAE has been supporting the network as it explores moving from holding in-person matching events to conducting virtual matching meetings. PAE Coordinator Rachel Paashaus relayed that the network has facilitated more matching conversations virtually in the last six months than events that would have been held ordinarily. She said, “We can’t take the kids anywhere; we can’t go anywhere, but permanency is not on hold.”
Matching meetings are held via Zoom and allow agencies to share information about waiting children and families with one another. Workers use screen sharing to present slideshow presentations about the children, showing photos and stories about the child’s interests in the strengths-based style that is so central to PAE. The video conferences are about an hour long and host PAE coordinators and workers from affiliate agencies representing families and children.
A crucial element of in-person matching events is the relationship-building that they can provide for youth and families who participate. Since matching activities have gone virtual, PAE and the network have been troubleshooting how best to involve families and youth while ensuring safety for all participants. A few meetings have begun to include families.
Rachel emphasized the benefits realized by transitioning matching events to virtual matching meetings. In addition to saving time and money, Zoom is a viable backup option in case future in-person matching events are canceled due to inclement weather, for example. Additionally, without the distractions of event planning details, planners can singlemindedly focus on the meeting’s intended outcomes. Jane Johnston, PAE division manager, explained that her team helps affiliate agencies think through all facets of the event such as which youth or families the meetings will highlight and who best to invite to facilitate connections. At times, the PAE coordinators join the virtual matching meetings, but more often they are behind the scenes assuring that affiliates are assisted and supported in their efforts.
Jane and Rachel are optimistic about the future of matching events, which they envision as being “hybrids” capable of maximizing the prime contract’s resources – the same irreplaceable in-person activities and engagement that provide so much energy, now supplemented with an online component – to connect families registered with PAE from all over the United States with children in need of permanency.
The PAE team is also working diligently to update their guide, Adoption Awareness and Matching Events – Planning For Success, to include new information about planning and executing virtual matching activities.
For more information on the Pennsylvania Adoption Exchange, please visit adoptpakids.org.
Kristine E. Lewis is a SWAN LSI Paralegal for Luzerne County, where she specializes in termination of parental rights cases. Kristine was inspired by her conversation with PAE to encourage teamwork among Luzerne County Children & Youth Services caseworkers, SWAN LSI staff and PAE staff to ensure all eligible youth in Luzerne County are registered with PAE.