PAE Adapts Virtual “Waiting Child” Tapings
By Erin Reilly, SWAN Regional Technical Assistant
The nationwide COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us that change is constant, but change can also be a catalyst for learning and improvement. Since March 2020, the Pennsylvania Adoption Exchange (PAE) has had to adapt the “Waiting Child” segments to be filmed remotely to mitigate the spread of the virus. The flexibility of this format provides even more opportunities to feature the voices of waiting children and youth and promote permanency efforts throughout the Commonwealth.
According to Alfredo Gonzalez, central region PAE coordinator, video conferencing was used at least once prior to coronavirus to produce a segment for a child who is medically fragile. “This experience gave us the framework to easily shift to ‘socially distant’ interviews,” he said.
SWAN sponsors “Waiting Child” segments in partnership with three local news outlets across the state. KDKA in the Pittsburgh area, WHTM in the Harrisburg area and WBRE in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area contract with the Department of Human Services to produce and air the segments. The format typically includes an interview with the waiting child or youth and strengths-based commentary from their child-specific recruitment (CSR) or Older Child Matching Initiative (OCMI) worker, county worker or other personnel who provide services and work closely with them. This format has been maintained with the virtually produced segments; however, interviews with the child and their worker(s) are taking place with the use of Zoom, a video conferencing platform.
Before, children would select a location based on their interests, and the news team, along with the child’s caseworker and PAE coordinator, would meet to film the segment. Locations like HersheyPark, the Pittsburgh Aviary, and the Bloomsburg Fair provided engaging environments in which the interviewer and the child could interact. Now, with the help of PAE coordinators, stations are using their resources to find creative ways to replicate this engagement through remote interviews. KDKA, for example, featured a child who has a passion for Minecraft discussing coding and game mechanics with a software expert as part of his segment.
This shift to virtual tapings has opened many doors for both youth and caseworkers. Youth who were unable to travel for various reasons can now participate in tapings, and, with fewer scheduling limitations, caseworkers can invite more people from the youth’s life to participate in the tapings and help highlight their strengths and personalities. Without the need to travel for each segment, caseworkers can also tape interviews for multiple youth at once and ensure more youth participate overall. This format also makes it easier to tape an updated interview as the youth ages. All of these benefits have been realized through the creativity and flexibility of the incredible media teams at each of SWAN’s partner stations.
Additionally, PAE embeds the taped segments in the youths’ profiles on adoptpakids.org. Prospective families may feel a stronger connection to a youth through a video that brings the youth’s voice, laugh, and wishes to life on the screen.
“Waiting Child” segments, whether taped in-person or through Zoom, are an effective strategy used by PAE to reach families who have not before considered adoption. As we emerge on the other side of COVID-19, PAE will continue to embrace its partnership with the media to shine a spotlight on the wonderful qualities and strengths of waiting youth.
Erin Reilly is a SWAN regional technical assistant in the northeast. Previously, Erin has worked as a SWAN LSI paralegal in Bucks County and as a case manager for two SWAN affiliate agencies. After eight years of working in child welfare, Erin continues to learn something new every day. She is inspired by everyone’s creativity during this time to find new ways to achieve permanency for Pennsylvania’s children and youth.