The Virginia’s Kids Belong Story
In 2010 at a Richmond area mall, Secretary of the Commonwealth Janet Kelly ran into a woman who was lost, pregnant, and in need of help. Through a long series of events, she and the woman became friends, and later that year Janet visited her in the hospital to celebrate the birth of her healthy baby boy, Ashton.
In 2012, Janet married Ryan, who also worked in the Governor’s office. The Saturday after their wedding, they attended a foster care and adoption rally held by faith leaders in Richmond. The irony that though they’d been in government a combined 30 years at this point, yet it was the faith sector who introduced them to the foster care crisis did not go unnoticed by them.
Nine days later, they received a call from Ashton’s Guardian ad Litem (a volunteer advocate). Ashton’s parents had fallen on hard times, and he was in danger of entering foster care. It took only a moment for Janet and Ryan to decide what they knew was right, and within days they were granted legal custody of now eighteen month old Ashton. Sadly, reunification efforts with his birth parents were not successful, so the next best option of adoption was offered to the Kellys who didn't hesitate to officially make Ashton a part of their family in May 2016. They have maintained an open adoption and frequent contact with Ashton’s parents and siblings so that Ashton might feel the love of not two, but four parents cheer him on through life.
The Kelly’s political path and personal adoption story led them to launch the "Virginia Adopts" campaign alongside the governor in 2013. This pioneering effort used the power of the Governor’s office, social media, and a collaborative approach to match over 1,000 children with permanent families in just one year, as well as recruit additional support into Viginia's foster care system.
In 2014, after leaving the Governor’s office, Janet and Ryan connected with Brian and Julie Mavis in Colorado who also had success reducing the number of waiting children in their state. Their methods involved creating high-quality videos to give children who were available for adoption a face and a voice and to engage the faith community around them.
Businessman, Joe Ritchie, and his Fox River team in Chicago, who specialize in public-private partnerships and bringing a business approach to the not-for-profit world were co-founders as well. His point person for child welfare issues, Laura Doherty Collins, as well as Project Director, Tim Shirk, helped identify the potential with the merging of the models. Together they launched America’s Kids Belong in 2015 and consider themselves honored to join the fight for permanency and belonging for every child.
Oklahoma's Kids Belong launched in 2015 and, by working with Governor Mary Fallin and many on the ground partners in Oklahoma, Oklahoma experienced a 42% increase in the number of foster families leading the OK Department of Human Services to hit a federally mandated goal for the first time in history.
Next, Tennessee Kids Belong launched in 2016 with the partnerships of Governor Bill Haslam, the TN Department of Children's Services and many local partners. In just the first 10 months of the program, Tennessee experienced a 44% increase in the number of foster families, and placed over 100 children in adoptive or pre-adoptive homes.
Virginia’s Kids Belong is AKB’s third state effort and looks forward to helping advocate for Virginia's children and families so that every child might have a place to belong.