With Saugatuck Congregational's bells ringing in the background, Achara Sessler, Westport resident and Social Work Supervisor for the Department of Children and Families (DCF) relayed some background information about adoption and foster care during.

Sessler's Region 1 is one of 14 DCF regions in the state. Sessler, a University of Bridgeport graduate, supplies the Norwalk/Stamford region with social work supervision.

Her domain blankets southwestern Connecticut towns, including Westport, Greenwich, Darien, Norwalk, New Canaan, Weston, Wilton and Stamford.

She reported that the DCF is a public, non-profit state agency that provides protective services, foster care services, special needs adoptions, mentoring programs and respite services.

Here are some questions about DCF foster, adoption operations (and answers) supplied by Sessler through DCF documents.

Who are the children?

Male or female up to 18 years old; all races, cultures and religions; all economic backgrounds; sibling groups; have a history of abuse and/or neglect; special emotional, behavioral, medical, educational or therapeutic needs.

How are cases referred to DCF?

Referral is via a report of alleged abuse and neglect from schools, police, children, medical personnel, neighbors.

What is the DCF investigation process?

Unsubstantiated referrals usually are closed. Substantiated referrals may result in an open case involving in-home services, removal of children for safety reasons, out-of-home placement, cases transferred to ongoing services unit and permanency planning services.

What is involved in becoming a licensed foster or adoptive parent?

Inquiry, open house, personal home visit/interview by DCF social worker. This is followed by invitation and participation in group assessment process; home visit interviews; license requirements and recommendations.

What assessment and licensing requirements must prospective foster or adoptive parents provide?

Proof of minimum of 21 years of age; verification of stable income; criminal record check, local, state, federal fingerprinting. Also, DCF protective services check; DMV records; medical statements documenting good physical and emotional health; confidentiality/disciplinary agreements; three references; copies of driver's license and car insurance; weapons permits and storage; veterinarian records; adequate licensed child care arrangement; well water and alternative heating source check; landlord notification; attendance and completion of the PRIDE program for prospective foster or adoptive parents.

Sessler was asked about the difference between foster care and adoption and she noted that foster care is temporary, where DCF is the legal guardian.

Foster care also involves immediate placement and the goal is reunification of child with parents.

Adoption, on the other hand, is permanent. The adoptive parents are the legal guardian. Matching a child to prospective parents requires a wait period until the process is completed. The goal for all adoptions is permanency.

So what makes a great foster or adoptive parent?

The DCF markers provided by Sessler for prospective adoptive or foster parents include the following:

"Stable, mature, committed, dependable, flexible, child advocate, team player willing to work with DCF social worker, the biological parents, and community service."

For more information, visit www.helpachildshine.com or call 1-888-Kid-Hero, or write to the Department of Children & Families at P.O. Box 4353, Hamden, CT 06514.