In the early 1990s, a record number of "unadoptable" children, abandoned by their parents and trapped in a series of temporary-care situations, desperately needed permanent homes. Foster care had left them with a sense of alienation and despair at the prospect of every finding a loving family. Meanwhile, adoption parents of such children often found themselves without support or guidance, and many of the state's senior citizens suffered from depression and feelings of purposelessness in their twilight years.
Illinois sought to solve these problems together by creating a residential community called Hope Meadows where adoptive parents could cluster, supporting each other as they dealt with the challenges of providing permanency to children who had often been abused or neglected. Senior citizens unrelated to the families would have a strong place in the neighborhood, contributing many hours of volunteer work and care with the children. This would not only provide them with meaningful activity, but would allow adopted children easy access to a source of emotional support.
In late 1993, thanks to an appropriation by the Illinois legislature and timely attention from then-President Bill Clinton, the newly-formed nonprofit corporation Generations of Hope (GOH) purchased a defunct Air Force base for reuse, to make this project a reality. Making only minimal changes to the housing that existed there, GOH created Hope Meadows in just under one year, laying the foundation for a community that could fill the needs of three generations.
At present, 35 children from the state's foster care system have found permanent families (Hope Parents) at Hope Meadows, and six more are transitioning from foster care to a more permanent situation. All of the children suffered either abuse or neglect prior to their lives at Hope Meadows. Thirteen parents provide homes for these children, and 42 seniors round out the community. Senior residents (Hope Seniors) are required to volunteer six hours each week. Some spend their time on broad community-building tasks, but most elect to work with the children, leading activities, tutoring, and even acting as crossing guards.
Adoptive parents find a supportive network of professionals and fellow parents who empathize with the unique problems that adopted children can present. But adoptive parents find more concrete help as well. Housing is provided free of charge, as long as each single parent adopts at least three children and each couple adopts four. Instead of paying allowances for food and housing based on the number of children adopted, a standard practice that Generations of Hope officials argue treats adopted children as a commodity, one parent is allotted a $20,000 annual salary, and is required to stay at home with the children. All of this adds up to a strong community where potentially troubled youth find a nurturing upbringing.
Hope Meadows residents unanimously agree that, without the program's strong sense of community and fiscal support, they would not have been able to adopt as many children, or provide them with full-time care. Seniors express a renewed sense of purpose and higher quality of life. And, most importantly, Hope Meadows' rate of providing permanent homes for children is 2/3 higher than Illinois' already impressive numbers. The Hope Meadows model has been watched closely by child welfare professionals across the country, as a much-needed ray of hope for "unadoptable" children and adoption families.