Who Are We?
We are a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting foster, kinship, and adoptive families of children and youth with disabilities and other special needs. We serve families, educators and child welfare professionals in the Northern Virginia area.
Formed Families Forward’s mission is to improve developmental, educational, social, emotional and post-secondary outcomes for children and youth with disabilities and other special needs through provision of information, training and support to adoptive and foster parents, and kinship caregivers.
Who Are Formed Families?
- About 2½ percent of children under 18 years in the U.S. are adopted.
- An additional one percent of children are in foster care at any point in time.
- More than 450,000 children and youth enter foster care annually in the US; about 5250 children in Virginia are in foster care.
- Nearly 15% of children in Virginia are in adoptive, foster or kinship families (i.e., not related to the adult householder as a biological child or stepchild).
- So, in an average U.S. classroom, at least one student is adopted or in foster care, and more are in kinship families
- While many adopted and foster children are physically and emotionally healthy and experience educational success, some are at greater risk of emotional, behavioral and learning problems.
- Children who were adopted are significantly more likely than non-adopted peers to have or have had diagnoses of depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, behavior or conduct problems and have problems with social behavior.
- Children and youth in foster care and kinship care are at higher risk of having disabilities and requiring special education services. Some specific studies have found:
- Children and youth in foster care are significantly more likely to be identified as eligible for special education with an emotional or behavioral disturbance.
- More than a quarter of children who have substantiated maltreatment had been identified as having a disability; the most common type of disability was emotional disturbance, while other common disabilities included intellectual and developmental disabilities and learning disabilities.
- Children with substantiated maltreatment with disabilities were about two times more likely to be in out of home placement than children with substantiated maltreatment without disabilities.
- More than half of children in out of home care scored in the clinical range on standardized measures of mental health, with conduct disorders, ADHD, post traumatic stress disorder, depression and generalized anxiety disorder being the most prevalent disorders.
- Overall, more than a third of adopted children have special health care needs; more than half of children adopted from public foster care have special health care needs.
2016 5 year est. American Community Survey, US Census Bureau, national and northern Virginia data; 2007 National Survey of Children’s Health and 2007 National Survey of Adoptive Parents; Smithgall et al., cited in National Working Group on Foster Care and Education, December 2008; Zetter et al., 2004; Bay Area study, cited in National Working Group on Foster Care and Education, December 2008; Tirella, Chan, & Miller, 2006; Beverly et al., 2008; Geenen & Powers, cited in National Working Group on Foster Care and Education, December 2008; Lightfoot, Hill & LaLiberte, 2011; Tarren-Sweeney, 2013
Kelly Henderson, Ph.D. | Executive Director
A special educator by profession, Kelly is a former public school teacher of students with emotional and behavioral disorders, and has worked in national and federal special education policy and research settings. Kelly’s family is formed in part through public foster care and adoption. Her children have a range of learning, behavioral and cognitive disabilities for which they have received early intervention, special education and related services. Kelly has trained adoptive, foster and kinship families and agency personnel on special education-related needs of children and has provided information and supports to many individual families. Kelly also serves as part-time instructional faculty at George Mason University, training graduate students and special education teachers. Kelly believes that formed families must have information and advocacy tools to improve the delivery of appropriate services, and to increase the academic, social and behavioral outcomes for children and youth with special needs.
Sarah Smalls | Family Resource Coordinator
Sarah is a kinship caregiver to three grandchildren in the northern Virginia area. Formerly an executive administrator with the federal government, Sarah has worked part time as a parent liaison in a local Fairfax County elementary school and is the past Vice President of Kinship for FACES of Virginia Families (now NewFound Families). Sarah conducts intakes, coordinates resources and supports families in their efforts to meet the special education needs of the children in their care.
Whitney Emerson | Training Coordinator
Whitney is the proud mother of two teenagers who joined her family through international adoption. Her son introduced her to the world of special education and she has learned to navigate systems to improve services for her children. In her former life, Whitney worked as a certified meeting and event planner for associations in the DC area and earned a certificate in Event Management from George Washington University. Whitney plans and oversees our training events and conducts outreach activities to formed families and professionals.
Jodi Tharan. M.Ed., Family Engagement and Training Manager
Jodi has been an Educational Consultant for nearly two decades, providing a wide range of services and curricula to stakeholders such as California First Five, The Jewish Federation of the Greater East Bay, The Unitarian Universalist Association and California Shakespeare Theater. Her consulting focused on making learning available to all by celebrating strengths and understanding challenges. Jodi has two young adult children and is fostering to adopt a toddler. After hearing about the increased need for families to step up, Jodi and her children said, “Yes!” and have had the amazing experience of welcoming this loving, funny child to their family while navigating the complex systems involved in doing so. Jodi has a particular interest in early intervention and empowering families at every stage of the life cycle.
Danielle Bailey | Communications Specialist
Danielle works as a consultant to Formed Families Forward, coordinating our social media communication and outreach efforts.
Kimberly Harrell, M.Ed., LPC, NCC, ACS | Board Chair
Kimberly is a parent to three sons, two by birth and one through marriage. Kimberly has over 20 years of experience working with those whose lives have been touched by adoption, including birth parents, adoptees, adoptive parents and adoptive families. She is former adoption program director and is now in private practice in Northern Virginia where she works with individuals, families, and adolescents. Her passion for working on adoption-related issues continues in her practice. Kimberly regularly presents at conferences supporting adoption and foster care professionals. She also speaks to groups of mental health professionals to educate them on the adoption-related issues they may encounter in their practices.
Lisa Mathey, M.Ed.
Lisa is an adoptive parent of two daughters with special education needs from Loudoun County. She and her husband, Gary were licensed foster parents for six years in Loudoun County. Lisa is an Adoptive Parent Liaison (APL) and Family Development Specialist (FDS) for UMFS. She served as a two-year term as the Board President for FACES of Virginia Families: Foster Care, Adoption and Kinship Association. Lisa also served as a parent representative on the Virginia Child Welfare Advisory Committee (CWAC). Currently, Lisa serves as the North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC)’s adoption representative for Virginia, and is a member of the National Foster Parent Association (NFPA).
Alexandra Mitchell, R.N., B.S.N
Alexandra currently resides in Alexandria, VA, and works for FIREDOG Entertainment. She is a mother of two wonderfully amazing boys and 1 cat, and is engaged to Ron, a kinship caregiver and parent! She is currently working on a PhD in Forensic Psychology at Walden University in hopes of teaching one day. Alexandra is a George Mason School of Nursing Alumni, Alpha Phi Alumni, and has BSN experience in Clinical Nursing Supervisor, pediatric trauma and adolescent behavioral health.
Mary Oborski, MSW, LCSW
Mary is an adoptive parent to two young boys. For the past eight years she has been at home raising her two children. Before children, Mary worked in the adoption field. She counseled birth parents, assisted adoptive parents with their adoptions, and facilitated reunions between adult adoptees and their birth parents. As a social worker, Mary also worked for the military teaching parenting skills to young service members and service members who had PTSD and brain injuries.
Amy Fortney Parks, Ph.D., LPC-R | Secretary
Amy is birth and adoptive mom to four children. Amy is an Educational Psychologist, parent coach, consultant and popular speaker specializing in merging brain-based research, educational interventions and clinical strategies into a comprehensive approach to treatment. She is the Executive Director of WISE Mind Solutions, LLC, a Northern Virginia-based practice focused on children, teens and families. She is also the owner of The Wise Family – a comprehensive website for kids and parents designed to inspire, educate and energize families.Amy has over 20 years of experience through her work in Northern Virginia schools, adoption agencies throughout the US and private practice with countless families.
Tim Rosado | Treasurer
Tim is dad to two young adults. His family has strong connections to the special education and disability community, which has given him a strong appreciation for the challenges our parents and caregivers face every day. Tim is a proud uncle, godparent, and friend to several children that have been adopted, and who have learning and/or physical disabilities. In addition, as a long time Federal employee, Tim has twenty five years of financial management experience covering several agencies within Washington, DC.
Kathleen is a birth parent of five, and a kinship care provider. She is a trained foster parent who has completed the pre-placement training requirements. Kathleen has experience parenting a teenager with special needs as a kinship caregiver. Professionally, Kathleen is a general education elementary school teacher in Manassas City Public Schools.
Sarah grew up in a family that fostered and adopted from the time she was five years old. Sarah is the birth and adoptive mother to seven children, from age 3-18. Sarah and her husband have fostered over a dozen children throughout the past 14 years. Sarah has extensive IEP experience due to her children’s learning, behavioral and cognitive disabilities. They have received special education through early intervention, as well as elementary, middle and high school services. Sarah leads support groups and plays an active role in assisting other foster and adoptive parents in her community. Sarah and her husband were named ‘Foster Parents of the Year’ in Loudoun County in 2018 and received the ‘Angels of Adoption’ congressional award in 2018.