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Social worker Rita Goodman wins national award

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently recognized Rita Goodman, social services case manager for the Clayton County Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS), with its Adoption Excellence Award.

Goodman was honored in Washington, D.C., along with 16 other national recipients, who have made a difference in the lives of children.

Goodman, who won the contest's "individual contributions" category, was recognized for placing 113 foster children with permanent families, including 18 sibling groups, 17 children over the age of 14, and 20 children with severe behavioral or medical difficulties. According to the Georgia Department of Human Services (DHS), Goodman is the first Georgian to win the award since its inception in 1997.

"We're very proud of Rita, especially her work with children who face obstacles to a permanent home," said DHS Commissioner B.J. Walker, in a written statement. "Georgia is making real progress for foster children."

Goodman has worked for Clayton County DFCS for eight years, two years as an investigator and the last six years in the adoptions division. She said winning the award, Aug. 4, left her as shocked as "a stunned bunny."

"This is the first time it has ever been done in Georgia, so we kind of put Clayton County on the map with this thing," she said. "It was really an awesome thing. I feel like we have really made a difference."

According to Goodman, finding homes for older foster children, sibling groups, and children with "special needs" can be an extreme challenge. She said it often requires one "to do extraordinary things" to find those children a suitable, permanent home.

"Anything over three siblings in a group is considered special needs," Goodman said. "Some of these children are medically fragile. Some of them are emotionally disturbed ... all of these kids came out of abusive homes, so a lot of them have issues. We have to find families that are equipped. We need a family that is going to be patient with them and not expect more from them than they can give ... those are the kind of parents we are looking for."

Goodman said one pair of siblings she was tasked with finding foster homes for, ages 17 and 14, each had severe cerebral palsy and microcephaly (an abnormally small head). She said he helped find resources for the family so that the children could receive the proper care.

"The kids are in diapers, on feeding tubes, [and] in wheelchairs," Goodman said. "We ended up getting a van, so that these parents could transport these children from place to place. Our number one goal is to keep sibling groups together."

Clayton County DFCS Social Services Supervisor LeeGayle Harvill, who nominated Goodman for the award, said that in 2006 and 2008, Goodman was named "Queen of Adoption" among DFCS divisions in the metro Atlanta area for placing more children in permanent homes than any other social worker in Clayton, Henry, Fayette, or Fulton counties.

"A lot of the time, we have barriers in actually finding homes for kids," Harvill said. "Because she [Goodman] has been doing this for awhile, she has a lot of resources to make it [the process of adoption] much quicker. If everything is in order, we can get the adoption finalized and out the door within 60 days. That is pretty remarkable. It's a consistent thing that she is very good at ... whenever she finds them a home, it is very seldom that they will be displaced."

Goodman said she is thankful about winning the award, but won't let it distract her from the task of finding children permanent homes with suitable families.

"It was certainly unexpected," she said. "I totally didn't feel like I had done anything that special to get an award. I'm just a social worker who is interested in helping children. I am going to keep on doing what I do."

To find out more about adoption, call 1-(877) 210-KIDS.