I live in the Midwest, so I hadn’t heard about the Northwest Adoption Exchange until recently, but in doing more research and reaching out to their director, I’ve learned that they’re an amazing organization that has been operating for over 30 years helping children in foster care of all ages find adoptive families. It is more and more common to see websites that feature children who are seeking placements, both for foster homes and adoption placement. However, the Northwest Adoption Exchange sets itself apart as it advocates for these children in a way that not all nonprofits do—many of the youth are involved in creating their own profile, which is inspiring and amazing. (I spent a lot of time reading about these remarkable young people seeking a home, and I suggest you do as well!)
What is very innovative about the Northwest Adoption Exchange is that though it is a resource for families seeking to adopt, it is very centered on the youth themselves—what they hope to be, who they are now, and what they’re looking for in a family.
The mission of the Northwest Adoption Exchange is “finding adoptive families for the children in foster care, supporting the families who come forward, and educating and advocating for excellence in child welfare.” We know that the foster care system isn’t perfect and that some children age out of the system without being adopted. Organizations like the Northwest Adoption Exchange are necessary to help eliminate that issue. Read more about different perspectives of foster care.
Founded in 1976, the Northwest Adoption Exchange was the first regional, multi-state adoption exchange. “As an adoption exchange, our role is to assist with adoption recruitment and help make the important connections between youth in foster care and potential adoptive families. Last year, we facilitated over 2,000 connections between families and the social workers for featured youth,” explains Tyler Helpbach, Director of the Northwest Adoption Exchange.
Who the Northwest Adoption Exchange Serves
Located in the Pacific Northwest, The Northwest Adoption Exchange serves children and families in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Alaska. Additionally, they also oversee the Washington Adoption Resources Center (WARE) and the Oregon Adoption Resource Exchange (OARE). Though the goal of their website is to find families to adopt children, they also are an amazing resource center for people beginning the adoption process as they offer many links and services to help adopting families. Though they are located in the Pacific Northwest, there are families nationwide that use their services.
“We have families connecting with us from all over the country, and because our focus is on adoption recruitment on behalf of the youth we serve, utilizing the Northwest Adoption Exchange is completely free of cost for families,” explains Helpbach.
Though it’s free, it’s still recommended that you speak with your adoption agency to ensure that you understand the out-of-state requirements, etc. “While many agencies are supportive of out-of-state inquiries, some may have policies or practices that require families to focus on pursuing local placements,” explains Helpbach. “A family’s relationship with their agency is an important part of the adoption process, and it’s best that they have an open and honest conversation with their agency to make sure everyone is on the same page before they start inquiring on out-of-state youth.”
I asked Helpbach about the number of adoptions that he credits the Northwest Adoption Exchange with. He humbly noted that their job in adoption recruitment is “only a small part of the puzzle.”
“Recruitment is a team sport where social workers, agencies, families, and youth all play important roles,” says Helpbach. “That being said, we’re thrilled every time a featured youth is connected with a family, and we are proud that almost 250 youth who were featured in the Northwest Adoption Exchange last year found permanency.”
Services Provided by the Northwest Adoption Exchange
This is a great location to begin the adoption process as the prospective families are guided through the steps necessary to adopt, the process to adopt, and even talks about the home study that is necessary. Read my own story about the home study process. Through their site, the Northwest Adoption Exchange offers families seeking to adopt the ability to see a gallery of children searching for adoptive homes. The galleries share in-depth stories and details of the kinds of families that these children are searching for.
“Any family who has a completed home study or foster license can use the Northwest Adoption Exchange to inquire on featured youth. Families who are just starting the process are also more than welcome to check out our website and learn about some of these amazing kids, but in most cases, they won’t be able to connect with the child’s social worker until they have a completed home study,” Helpbach explains.
Adopting with the Northwest Adoption Exchange
As many of you know, the adoption process can be difficult with all of the information available and the length of time it takes, not just in waiting for a placement, but in finding an agency or adoption lawyer, and doing research in your state. (For more information, here is a guide to adopting!)
The Northwest Adoption Exchange advises that you choose an adoption agency prior to reaching out to them. They have more information on their site that lists agency information. With any adoption, you have to do your homework, particularly when you’re adopting outside of your own state. Some states require orientations prior to adoption and possibly even during based on the child’s needs. Furthermore, you should plan to read books and articles about topics relevant to the children you’re seeking to adopt. (Honestly, Adoption.com has an article about practically everything related to adoption, so this is a good place to start!) And while you’re educating yourself, the Northwest Adoption Exchange suggests you educate others—particularly those who will also be in your child’s life—about adoption.
Like any other adoption, you first need a home study. Remember that this is something that they don’t offer, but if you need help in doing this, this is something they can help with. It is noted that in order to ask about a child on the Northwest Adoption Exchange site, a completed home study is required.
It’s also advised that you plan ahead and look into local schools that will fit your child’s needs, learn about therapists who can help with your child, and learn about support for your family following the finalized adoption. Find adoption support groups in your state here.
Remember, the Northwest Adoption Exchange is here to help you as they are eager to help the children on their site find a home. You can call them directly at 1-800-927-9411 or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Youth Featured on the Northwest Adoption Exchange
You can virtually “meet” children who are hoping to be fostered or adopted through the Northwest Adoption Exchange site. Each page has photos of the children, their unique story, any needs they may have, details about the family that they are hoping to live with, and in some cases, any medical needs that they may have. When scrolling through, it was heartbreaking to see the advanced age of some children who could possibly age out of the foster care system. (Read these 5 things that happen to children that age out of the foster care system.) However, children of all ages are listed on this site and are seeking homes. If you know someone in these states seeking to build their families through adoption, please consider sharing this page! Not able to foster or adopt? Here are additional ways that you can help kids in foster care.
I was curious about how the Northwest Adoption Exchange was able to compile this list and asked Helpbach about that. “We work directly with social workers, state partners, and when appropriate, youth themselves to feature the stories of youth who need adoptive families,” he says. “Like most adoption exchanges throughout the country, social workers register children on their caseload who have a plan of adoption and who don’t have any potential adoptive families locally. Our job is to then help spread the word and champion these youth through a strength-based approach that inspires families to come forward.”
It is truly amazing to read about these children, who share their goals and aspirations, strengths, and hopes in finding a family.
According to Helpbach, as they tell the stories of children who need adoptive families, they try to remember three values that are really paramount to their organization: strength-based recruitment, youth empowerment, and fierce optimism. “Strength-based recruitment really drives how we share stories because everyone should have the opportunity to put their best foot forward, especially youth in foster care,” he says. “That’s why we feature youth with positive language that tries to honor their story and celebrate their potential. Youth empowerment is important because many youth want to be engaged, involved, and have a say in the adoption recruitment process and those youth deserve to help shape how their stories are told.”
Helpbach additionally explains that in order to be successful in recruiting adoptive families, the Northwest Adoption Exchange has learned that they need to be fiercely optimistic. “We don’t waver in the belief that our communities can meet this need and find every child in foster care who needs an adoptive family the permanency they deserve.”
Kids’ Fest: An Opportunity to Get Acquainted
The Northwest Adoption Exchange has held Kids’ Fest for about 20 years. This is an opportunity for children located in Washington State and families eligible to adopt to meet one another. With its carnival-like atmosphere, it’s also an opportunity for other children to connect with one another and have an afternoon of fun. It is clearly indicated that no adoption decisions are made here but is a great way for families and children seeking foster and adoption placements alike to meet and talk in a low-key, but also monitored environment as both social workers and staff attend as well. For more information about Kids’ Fest, visit this site.
Though not a requirement, this is a way to informally meet some of the children from the site and discover options and learn more about the Northwest Adoption Exchange.
Why the Northwest Adoption Exchange Is Important
According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, in 2016, there were about 437,465 children in foster care. Though 51% were reunited with their family, that still leaves nearly half that were not. (Learn about the 8 big reasons kids enter the foster care system). Organizations like the Northwest Adoption Exchange are critical to ensuring that children seeking homes find them. This is not only an opportunity for those seeking to build their families through adoption to learn more about youth who are seeking families, but it’s also an opportunity for youth themselves to share their unique stories, showcase their talents, and build the confidence through telling their stories. Each of these children is deserving of a family, and this site is a way for them to share that with the rest of the world.
How You Can Help
The Northwest Adoption Exchange is fiercely passionate about empowering youth in the adoption recruitment process. “Youth voices are important, and we’re constantly looking for new and innovative ways for youth to tell their stories to potential families,” says Helpbach.
If you’re interested in learning more, visit this site, where the Northwest Adoption Exchange hosts some amazing stories that families can view of teens who are engaged and involved in sharing. “From youth created podcasts, to artwork, and cooking tutorials, it’s incredible to see how youth respond when asked, ‘What do you want to tell adoptive families and how do you want to tell it?’” Helpbach states. “If you’re passionate about adoption from foster care, one of the best ways to be an advocate is to help share and champion these projects.”
To support the work of the Northwest Adoption Exchange, click here.
Visit Adoption.com’s photolisting page for children who are ready and waiting to find their forever families. For adoptive parents, please visit our Parent Profiles page where you can create an incredible adoption profile and connect directly with potential birth parents.