For parents looking to open their homes to children in the foster care system, it can be surprisingly daunting to navigate the complex system of foster and adoption.

That’s the rationale behind a new family fellowship program from Phoenix-based Yatom: The Jewish Foster and Adoption Network, which offers prospective parents the chance to come together for support and guidance. This year, for the first time, the organization is offering two tracks: a national cohort and an in-person cohort comprised of local families, couples and individuals seeking to foster or adopt.

Alli Goozh was a member of Yatom’s second cohort in 2017 and now serves on the organization’s board of directors. Yatom’s local program serves an unmet need, Goozh notes.

“It’s a need that hasn’t been filled anywhere,” she said. “I had tried doing this on my own once before and just got completely discouraged. There’s really no support, even though in Arizona there’s kids right now looking for foster homes, looking for anywhere safe to live.”

According to the Arizona Department of Child Safety, there were more than 14,000 children in out-of-home care in 2019.

A local cohort is something that Yatom founder and president Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz “has been thinking about for quite some time,” Goozh said, but “it required additional funding that there just wasn’t.”

This year, Yatom received an $8,000 grant from the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Phoenix, which will enable it to tailor its services to applicants in the Greater Phoenix area and to offer the opportunity for in-person meetings once the pandemic restrictions are lifted.

“When I went through it, we were all over the nation,” Goozh said. “And even though there were Zoom calls and a way to be connected, it was different. So to be able to do it in-person is so exciting.”

In Goozh’s experience, Yatom’s cohorts offer the advantage of “a little more clarity and a lot of handholding” in an otherwise murky process. When she tried to start the process on her own, she attended an orientation session that left her with a list of 40 organizations and little guidance about which ones would be willing or able to help her.

“There’s no way to know other than calling, and some of them I would call and they would say, ‘Oh, you’re Jewish, we only work with Christian people.’ Or ‘Oh, you’re single, we only work with married people,’” Goozh said. “You’re just left to navigate this massive mess with no guidance.”

With Yatom, Goozh attended monthly meetings where experts shared insights into the adoption process and where fellow cohort members could share their experiences with the process.

“To be able to do that in person, I can’t wait to see how that takes a different shape,” Goozh said.

With a local cohort, those meetings will be able to focus more closely on the specific challenges that prospective parents face in the Arizona adoption system.

“Each state has different rules and regulations and they have different organizations that people who want to foster or adopt can connect to,” Goozh said. “When I went through it, even in trying to support and share with each other, the people in Georgia had a different experience than the person in California who was having a different experience than I did in terms of options and steps of the process or types of fostering you can do.”

Meanwhile, the local cohort “is going to offer a really consistent across the board experience for everybody. I think it’s going to be really unique.”

Goozh hopes that the local cohort in Greater Phoenix can serve as a model for programs in other cities, as well.

“It’s exciting to think about what that might mean,” Goozh said. “When the Phoenix cohort happens, if we see a different level of success rate, of completion of adoptions and fostering happening, then that lends more credence to the idea that maybe we start to create this in other cities as well.It’s just a really exciting way to make it more personal and more specific, so that there can be more success.”

To become members of the 2020 cohort, prospective parents must apply by May 1. The cohort will begin monthly meetings and the licensure process this summer.

“This is a huge need,” Goozh said. “And I think there are probably a lot of families that don’t even know that they can get help doing this and providing a home for kids that need them.” JN

For more information: http://www.yatom.org/family-fellowship.html

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