Story by Lauren Sable Freiman | Apr 26, 2017
Photography by Keith Borgmeyer

CMFCAA works continuously to provide more aid to fostered and adopted children in mid-Missouri.

Amanda Towns, DeAnna Alonso, Sue Engelage

In 2007, five women, all adoptive or foster parents, formed a support group to help foster and adoptive families by sharing clothing. What started simply as a community clothing closet has grown into the Central Missouri Foster Care and Adoptions Association, an organization that today provides professional parent training, respite care opportunities, advocacy, programming for older youth, crisis intervention, and direct services that provide for physical needs like car seats, backpacks, and more. The organization has quickly proven itself to be an invaluable resource to families in the 13 Mid-Missouri counties it serves.

In 2013, CMFCAA was recognized by the state as the Central Missouri Adoption Resource Center, functioning as part of the state’s Department of Social Services. At that time, there were only four other such centers, located in St. Louis, Kansas City, and Springfield, recognized by the state of Missouri.

CMFCAA is not a foster placement or adoption agency; its services are available to both types of families after children have been placed in their home. Headquartered in Jefferson City, CMFCAA opened a satellite office in Columbia in 2016.

“Families providing around-the-clock care and supervision for abused and neglected children have little time and strained resources,” says CMFCAA president, CEO, and co-founder DeAnna Alonso. “Typical days include therapy appointments, school appointments, court appointments, biological visits, behavioral intervention, and more. Stress and exhaustion while caring for traumatized children goes with the territory. Our goal is to offer services, training, and personalized care and support to help alleviate stress, stabilize family units, deter placement disruption, and promote resiliency for foster and adoptive families in Central Missouri.”

According to CMFCAA operations director Amanda Towns, there are 1,400 children in foster care in Central Missouri alone, and each has access to CMFCAA services. “The opportunity has grown over the years as we’ve been able to have an active presence in several counties by going directly there and providing training, child enrichment, and respite opportunities,” Towns says.

The numbers show the need CMFCAA is filling in Audrain, Boone, Callaway, Camden, Cole, Laclede, Maries, Miller, Moniteau, Morgan, Osage, Phelps, and Pulaski counties. In 2016, 826 foster and adoptive parents took advantage of professional training and support, while 1,040 children benefited from enrichment programming. Through a respite exchange program, which matches families to share respite care, 799 foster and adopted children benefitted from 2,220 hours of care. CMFCAA provided advocacy and crisis intervention services for 158 families and was also able to make special requests to eliminate financial barriers for families when kids wanted to participate in extracurricular activities like summer camp, sports, or music lessons.

With additional resources from community partnerships, Towns says that CMFCAA is able to make an even larger impact for kids and families within certain communities. Through a partnership with Merrell University and Avail Salon, for example, foster and adoptive children receive free haircuts. The Salvation Army provides clothing vouchers that allow families to clothe their growing children as often as necessary. A partnership with the Lincoln University Farmers Market provides vouchers for families to purchase fresh vegetables, meats, fruits, and other food items during the year.

CMFCAA also provides Begin Again Backpacks, which give children backpacks with clothing, toiletries, and other essentials as children enter foster care. The organization also provides car seats for children entering care. Seniors in high school who are close to aging out of the foster care system can benefit from a two-year transitions program that provides mentorship, training, college or employment preparation, and help with senior year expenses.

“CMFCAA is a strong believer that our families can benefit from multiple support systems,” Towns says. That’s why the group partners with other organizations, including Capital City CASA, Salvation Army, Boys and Girls Club, Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri, Samaritan Center, and more.

CMFCAA’s three staff members each have close ties to, and an invaluable understanding of, the foster care and adoption system. Towns is an adoptive parent of four, including two children from Missouri foster care. Program coordinator Sue Engelage was herself a child in the foster care system. Alonso, one of CMFCAA’s co-founders, also spent time in multiple foster homes and a residential facility before spending a few years as a homeless adult. After stabilizing her life, she and her husband became foster parents to her nieces and nephews, whom they later adopted.

In 2017, CMFCAA looks forward to expanding the respite care program into its service counties. The organization will also introduce two new family finding programs — Extreme Recruitment and 30 Days to Family. Alonso says the goal of these new programs is to accelerate the opportunity for permanency in the lives of foster children. The Extreme Recruitment program was founded by a sister agency in St. Louis and was featured in Time magazine in 2011.

While Towns says that CMFCAA is always happy when a family chooses to foster or adopt children, there are numerous other ways to support the organization. Volunteers are always needed for monthly child enrichment programming and respite events in various counties, and the organization always has a need for mentors for older youth. CMFCAA also accepts financial donations or donations of supplies for the Begin Again Backpacks.

“CMFCAA also encourages people to recognize the families in their circle of influence who are fostering or have adopted,” Towns says. “Our hope is that others will reach out to support them by providing friendships, encouragement, an occasional meal, or babysitting opportunity.”