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October 2010 Caseworker of the Month
Shanda Moorman, an adoption recruiter for Wendy's Wonderful Kids in Orlando, Florida, is our October Caseworker of the Month. Her persistence and sensitivity helped facilitate an interstate adoption of siblings, uniting a family with a pair of twins who have significant medical conditions and will need care for the rest of their lives.
Rewards of the Job
One night at home — and she often works nights — Shanda Moorman sat at her computer reading emails and her mind drifted off.
Her daughter and son — Mariah, 13, and Michael, 10 — wandered into the room, watched for a moment and giggled at her. She was staring at the computer screen, at a photograph. The photograph was of two boys, Kenny and Benny, now 11. It was a recent picture, sent by the boys’ newly adopted mom, Hope Harder of Aurora, Missouri.
"I didn't realize how it was affecting me," Moorman said. "I was thinking, 'They look so happy. You can see it.'"
Moorman calls those photographs sent by families her "rewards" from three years as a recruiter with the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption program.
"It's not a nine-to-five job for her," said Harder, who nominated Moorman for AdoptUsKids’ Caseworker of the Month award. "She's the one who kept the loose ends together."
The twins, who can get on each other's nerves like any brothers, have cerebral palsy and use wheelchairs. Their verbal skills are very limited and Harder believes they show signs of autism, although they’ve never been officially diagnosed.
"But that doesn't begin to describe what darling little boys they are," Harder said.
Every Child is Adoptable
Kenny and Benny's foster home was a loving environment, but Moorman considered what would happen when they turned 18. Plus, children can tell the difference.
"When it's your own, and you have invested more, you do more. Children can pick up on that," Moorman said.
It's hard enough for older children, but when a child has a significant disability, plus a twin brother, it can be even more difficult to find an adoptive home.
"I found a lot of people kind of gave up on them, said nobody was going to adopt them," Moorman said of children with special needs in general. "But I think every child is adoptable."
More than 20,000 children in foster care age out of the system every year, according Department of Health and Human Services’ Adoption and Foster Care Analysis Reporting System. For severely disabled teens, after leaving one system they enter another. Some States ensure disabled children in foster care apply for federal Supplemental Security Income well before their 18th birthdays for a smoother transition. California approved such a law in 2007.
"For Kenny and Benny it's easy for somebody to say they’re non-verbal, they don't play together, but they’re still aware of each other's presence," Moorman said of the difficulty, yet necessity, in keeping siblings together. "They kept looking for each other; they knew they were supposed to be together."
Harder first learned about Kenny and Benny in 2007 through AdoptUsKids photolistings and knew she could give them a good home.
"I always wanted twins," she said.
At the time, Harder and her husband Ray had two grown biological children and six adopted children, some with significant disabilities. Their house had already been made wheelchair accessible.
There was no doubt in Harder's mind. She began calling Kenny and Benny "my boys" almost immediately. But they lived in a different State, and there were two of them, not just one. It was the almost-daily calls from Moorman that put Harder's mind at ease, convincing her that Moorman would go the extra mile to find the perfect home.
"Because of her, these kids got placed," Harder said.
It also put Moorman at ease sensing the devotion the Harders would show Kenny and Benny, who will need care long after they turn 18.
"I let them know, you getting these kids is as important to you as it is to me," Moorman said. "I could see that what they wanted for the boys was genuine, I could hear it in their voice."
By November, Kenny and Benny were at their new home with the Harders in Missouri.
"They still need a family," Harder said. "They are never going to outgrow that."
The Long Term Outlook
Moorman was credited for her tenacity, believing there is a right place for every child, and said it’s her job as a recruiter to find that place. Caseworkers often handle heavy caseloads. When siblings with medical conditions have a stable home and positive relationships with their foster parents, those cases sometimes are shuttled behind more pressing matters.
"I'm looking at the long term," she said. "Sometimes a lot of caseworkers look at the here and now."
Because of her background in case management, Moorman is able to bring this unique perspective. "I understand when families are trying to adopt they’re eager to get things moving. So, dealing with caseworkers with large caseloads becomes difficult," Moorman said.
'Sometimes They Need to be First'
Moorman, originally from Nashville, Tennessee, wasn't always an adoption recruiter. When she started with Florida Child Protective Services she was a generalist. Her 12 years there saw her involved in nearly every aspect of cases, from investigations of abuse and neglect to case management, to helping biological parents have their children returned, to adult protective cases, following each case through the process.
"I did everything," she said.
Moorman credits her husband and children for supporting her, and understanding that when she misses dinner or the chance to spend time with her own children on Saturday afternoons, it's because somebody else needs her more at that moment.
"My children understand that these children aren’t able to be first but sometimes need to be first," Moorman said.
The nomination letter
We adopted ten-year-old twins Kenny and Benny from Florida. They are autistic and in wheelchairs, but that doesn't begin to describe what darling little boys they are. We finalized the adoption two months ago and we hope to adopt two more at some point in the future. I am so thankful for the caseworkers that see kids as adoptable and respond quickly to inquiries. The twins’ caseworker was very helpful through it all and needs to be awarded AdoptUsKids Caseworker of the Month. Her name is Shanda Moorman and she’s a Wendy's Wonderful Kids adoption recruiter from Orlando, Florida.
Hope and Ray Harder