SARASOTA, Fla. (WFLA) – Around 450,000 kids across the United States are in the foster care system waiting to be adopted. In Sarasota, Manatee, and Desoto counties, that number fluctuates between 1,400 and 1,600.
Heart Gallery of Sarasota works to help find children across the area loving, permanent homes. The organization displays professional pictures of kids who are up for adoption in busy public spaces like shopping malls and libraries.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early spring, calls and inquiries coming into the organization virtually came to a halt.
“We were averaging about 100-125 inquiries a month and then COVID hit and it dropped dramatically to like 10 or 12 a month,” said President Matthew Straeb.
Instead of waiting on things to change, Heart Gallery of Sarasota’s president Matthew Straeb decided to find a way to seek out families interested in adoptions. The organization utilized technology, launching a new program it calls ‘Family Finder’.
“We had been working with this technology in Central Florida as a pilot project and we had a lot of success with it,” said Straeb.
So far, it’s proven to be incredibly successful across the Sarasota-Manatee area since its launch in June.
“We were getting hundreds and hundreds of inquiries. At first, we didn’t know if it was going to work that well, so we started with a really big area, and it was a little overwhelming. We got like 1,000 inquiries,” said Straeb. “Now, we are really focusing in on our area not just for adoptive homes, but also foster homes. That is where the real need is,” he continued.
The Family Finder technology utilizes public information and different messaging platforms to connect with families interested in adopting.
“When we really try to find the right family that fits in with that right child, it can be based on all kinds of different things like where they are located, what school they go to, what sport they like, if they are faith-based or not faith-based, their cultural background. All of those different things play into it and we are able to go out and find better-suited families and we do that by messaging through these platforms,” said Straeb.
Straeb says the technology also helps speed up the adoption process by shortening typical wait times. He says it helps keeps families engaged and energized.
His goal is to expand the program across the state and eventually across the nation.
“We believe that it is going to solve the problem,” said Straeb. “The sad and frustrating part is, we know the families are there, there are more than enough families. So we have got the pool, it is just a matter of making it all work,” he explained.
To learn more about Heart Gallery of Sarasota, click here.