Foster kids get Thanksgiving gift

By ADRIANNA BORKOWSKI  |  Nov. 22, 2002 at 9:02 PM
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WASHINGTON, Nov. 22 (UPI) -- Over a thousand foster children will go from a life of uncertainty to a life of security Saturday, when their adoptions are rapidly finalized on National Adoption Day.

In 34 communities across the nation, from Washington, D.C. to Seattle, Wash., courts will open the Saturday before Thanksgiving to bring judges, court staff, child welfare workers and pro bono lawyers together to complete the finishing touches on adoption hearings and last-minute paperwork. The adoption finalizations will also be marked with celebrity-sponsored special events and entertainment programs.

"When you see the children's and families' faces on adoption day, you understand how critical this day is for the foster children across the country," said Amy Pellman, acting executive director of The Alliance for Children's Rights.

The day's press conferences, luncheons, and arts programs combine a free legal services program with a public awareness campaign that honor adoptive families and encourages others to adopt foster care children.

Currently, of the half million foster children in the country, there are 131,000 children eligible for adoption, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. However, many of those eligible children can wait for years because of a backlog that has doubled since 1987, and now reached "staggering proportions," according to the Alliance. A vast majority of those children will simply age out of government care at age 18, because of a shortage of families willing to adopt foster children.

President George W. Bush has said that although the country has made progress with the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997, which limits the time for rehabilitation efforts of birth parents, there is still much work to do.

"While foster parents offer temporary essential care, the children for whom they care need the stability of a permanent family," the president said earlier this year when he declared November as National Adoption Month.

To encourage families to adopt foster children, the Bush administration has put into place a tax credit of up to $10,000 for adopting families, and programs that offer follow-up services and public education for older adopted children.

The White House has also created financial incentives for states that have increased the number of children going from foster care into permanent adoptive homes.

The White House has also launched AdoptUSKids, an organization which maintains a Web site, featuring photos and descriptions such as, "Jax is a boy, age 3 years, Case #34018555, is a happy, good-natured little boy... ." At that site, there are 6,500 such descriptions of children awaiting adoption.

According to the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, four out of every 10 families have considered adopting at one time or another. With these events, they are hoping to propel just a fraction of those people into action.

"If one in every 500 Americans adopted out of the foster care system, the backlog would be completely cleared out," said Rita Soronen, executive director of the foundation.

AdoptUSKids says that families that are considering adoption should first contact their local agency responsible for children in foster care for a "home study," which aids the family in making the decision to adopt. Next, a social worker collects data and background information on the family, conducts an interview and obtains a police background check. Felony convictions or records of child abuse and neglect will make a family ineligible.

National Adoption Day is also meant to make people aware that the cost of adopting a foster child is virtually free. One adoptive parent says the initial monetary costs of adopting were minimal.

"For us, the cost has been in extending our hearts to all our children, and getting attached to a child that we are at risk of losing," says Ruth Granam, 42, of Seattle. She and her husband have taken care of 47 foster children, and they currently have nine adopted foster children.

"But knowing that I had made a significant difference in a children's life keeps me going through every struggle. It's so rewarding," she says. "At first they just want to be clothed and fed, and then we see their eyes turn on, and they begin to believe that they are lovable. It's just an addictive feeling. Sure, they come from very hurtful backgrounds, but now they're all fine."

Indeed, child abuse is one of the main reasons for a child to be in the state's care, according to Shawn Flaherty of the Freddie Mac Foundation. The foundation has a child abuse prevention program and a program to find safe permanent homes for foster children.

The National Adoption Day program seeks to especially emphasize the needs of children who are the most difficult to place -- older children, children with siblings, children with physical and mental disabilities, immigrant children, and children of color.

According to year 2000 statistics gathered by the DHHS on children in foster care, 40 percent were African-American, 38 percent were Caucasian, 15 percent were Hispanic, 2 percent were American Indian, 1 percent were Asian and the remaining 5 percent were mixed and indeterminable.

Some of National Adoption Day's events will be hosted by celebrities and public figures that will no doubt focus public attention on these issues. In Los Angeles Bruce Willis, Bush's national spokesperson for children, will participate in a press conference with Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson.

"Too many children in foster care are falling through the cracks, and many are leaving the system as young adults without any support to help them reach their full potential," Willis said in July at the White House to launch an adoption publicity campaign with first lady Laura Bush.

In Seattle, Seattle Mariners catcher Dan Wilson will talk about his family's adoptions -- he has just adopted a second child. And in Washington, D.C., Mayor Anthony Williams and Miss USA 2000, Lynnette Cole, will talk about their childhoods as adopted foster children.

"Speaking as an adopted child myself, I know first hand the difference that their love and guidance is going to make," said Williams.

The events are sponsored by The Children's Action Network, the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, the Freddie Mac Foundation, Target, and Casey Family Services, a non-profit child welfare agency.

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