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25Oct

Adoption Mondays

The program team is exceptionally busy for the upcoming National Adoption month in November. Sheina Martinez, Crystal Allen, and Amy Cressman are coming to a Philadelphia lobby near you! These dedicated adoption coordinators decided that for National Adoption month they would create awareness about the needs of the children in foster care who are waiting for a forever family by setting up displays in the lobbies of some of the largest office buildings in Center City Philadelphia. 

They will be available each Monday in November to answer your questions about adoption and provide adoption information to interested families. Look for them if you are in the Philadelphia area from 11a.m. to 2 p.m. in the following locations:

Monday, November 1, Comcast Center, 1701 JFK Boulevard

Monday, November 8, 1500 Walnut Street

Monday, November 15, 1500 Market Street

Monday, November 22, Liberty Place, 1625 Chestnut Street

Do stop by and say hello!! 

22Oct

Keeping The Promise

Yesterday the report "Keeping The Promise: The Critical Need for Post-Adoption Services to Enable Children and Families to Succeed" was released by the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. It was authored by Susan Livingston Smith and is endorsed by a full complement of adoption-related organizations, such as ours. The full report may be viewed here:
http://www.adoptioninstitute.org/research/2010_10_promises.php

According to the report, over 90% of those who have done any sort of adoption are "satisfied" with their adoption. Children who have been adopted are at more risk of having developmental, emotional and/or other challenges. Families who have adopted are 3 times more likely to be in some sort of supportive care. (This is due to increased need and to increased openness to asking for help.) Many post adoptive services exist, mainly developed and delivered to those who have adopted from foster care, but have been curtailed or limited due to federal and state budget cuts. These services are critically needed by families who have taken any of the roads to adoption. These services also need to be more thoroughly studied to verify their efficacy and improve them as needed. 

We will do our part, working to increase the availability of post-adoption services. Please do yours too. Read the paper (or even the summary) and take action. We can guide you if you need help in knowing what to do.

20Oct

Good Shepherd Mediation Program Honors 2010 Shepherds of Peace - Vai Sikahema

NBC 10 Sports host Vai Sikahema is an amazing person and not just because of his reporting! As the Freddie Mac Foundations' Wednesday’s Child Coordinator for Philadelphia for over 3 years, I have the priviledge of seeing him in action each week. Of all the things he is involved in, he always talks about how Wednesday’s Child is his favorite thing to do. He comes each week ready to meet a new child in hopes that the Freddie Mac Foundation Wednesday’s Child program will assist us in finding the child a forever home. Vai is active, engaging, and genuinely excited about his role as the Freddie Mac Foundation Wednesday’s Child host. 

As a father of four children, he understands the importance of family. He is dedicated and passionate about learning about each child and often shares his experience at the tapings with other friends and family who may be interested in adoption. 

On the shoots, he goes above and beyond the call of duty to ensure that the child is having a good time. Whether he’s learning to bake with a future chef, shooting hoops with a future all star player, going through a maze with a young child, or simply talking to an older teen about their dreams to have a forever family — Vai is dedicated to America’s waiting children. 

We wish to congratulate him today upon being named one of the Shepherds of Peace by the Good Shepherd Mediation Program. He certainly deserves the honor. 

18Oct

The journey they all took was different from one another – the underlying stories ….all the same.

I had the privilege to attend a workshop over the weekend at the Philadelphia Family Pride conference called Family Matters! A Conference for LGBTQ Families, Friends and Allies. The workshop, Adoption Options, featured a fantastic panel of parents and experts who answered questions and told their adoption stories. 

One panelist adopted from treatment foster care, one adopted boys from Guatemala, there were open adoptions, closed adoptions, inter-state adoptions, and local foster to adopt adoptions. 

Each adoptive parent on the panel was gay or lesbian. Each offered a unique perspective. Each came from a different family history. Each experienced a different adoption journey. But the thread that was consistent throughout each story was the tangibly fierce love, commitment and belief that their children came to them and they to their children, for a reason and the deep desire to become parents.

Many of the experiences that the panelists talked about; the need of the adopted child to understand where they came from in a sensitive, honest and truthful manner, initial attachment issues, and the frustration around the adoption process were issues that any adoptive parent may encounter. 

Other experiences and issues that the panelists talked about; questions around which adoption agencies are LGBTQ friendly, how to decide if the long wait to be placed with a child was about their sexuality or just a normal part of the process, or laws around second parent adoption – these were specific to the LGBTQ prospective adoptive parent. 

The workshop allowed us to hear different adoption scenarios, learn about support services and resources, busted many myths and allowed participants to network with those that went through the process. 

One left feeling inspired, as well as understanding that a lot more work needs to be done to provide quality, supportive, LGBTQ friendly adoption services to our community. 

15Oct

Getting "Real"

It happens several times a week. Someone calls the Adoption Center and asks for help finding their "real" parents. 

I admit it. This topic puts me in vulnerable overload! As an adoptive mom, I am both sensitive and defensive when I hear that phrase. I immediately want retort that birthing (to me, anyway) is different from parenting. And that one does not always follow or preclude the other. At that moment, I would like nothing more than to educate the person that those words are not necessarily true. And furthermore, that phrase affects adoptive parents, big time. 

I work at being sensitive to the caller. As I cringe and keep my temper in check, I politely ask, "You are looking for your biological parents, then?" (Emphasis on the word "biological.") 

"Yeah. I just want to find my real parents," they reiterate and then usually end up telling me a capsule version of why.

I swallow and count to three. Sometimes to four. Before I react, I work at responding – by putting myself in their place. Please realize: I do understand that need to know—whether based on a sense of loss, a desire for cultural identity, medical reasons, etc. I get that they are curious. (Were I in the same situation, I would probably be curious, too.) Furthermore, I respect their desire to search and reunite—whether to obtain closure or provide a new opening. Wanting to know one’s roots is instinctual and, for some, finding birth family members could even reframe their life path. I heartily “root” for any who can stay the course to do so. 

But that isn’t the issue.

"Finding one’s birth parents isn't always easy…." I say quietly, emphasizing the word "birth,"-- again, working to respond rather than react, educate rather than rant. I calmly let them know there is no national database of all adoptions throughout the United States and that our office has no information that could help their search other than the information contained on our website.*

And while I don’t dissuade them, I am a voice of reason, letting them know that some states impose a waiting period, or maintain the adoptee must be a certain age, and many make the hoops one has to jump through for this coveted information pretty darn high.

Usually, they miss my quiet shift in language and continue to use the term "real" when referring to the people for whom they are searching – so my 15 second window to educate them in appropriate adoption language evaporates. But I am left wondering: how can I and other adoptive parents let others know that this phrase, as innocent as it may seem, hurts the feelings of a multitude of adoptive parents? 

Birthing isn't parenting—yet! Parenting is the process of raising a child. To me, "real" parents (no matter biological, foster, or adoptive) are the ones who invest in the child they raise—through providing comfort, commitment, discipline, like, love and even tough love. All parents make choices in child rearing. Most plant love. Some abuse. Some sacrifice. Some mistreat. Some are selfish. And a great number instill faith, ethics and morality. Some ignore or abandon. Let's face it: there is no one standard in parenting or creating a family. "Real life" parenting is hard and doesn't guarantee real good parenting. 

I hope that more universally accepted "real" definitions when referring to biological and adoptive parents could take root in our culture. A child's birth parents will always be their birth parents. No contest. But when they cannot or do not raise a child who later becomes adopted, they lose the chance to imprint through everyday "real" parenting. When adoptive parents work at parenting and raise their child(ren) through love and support, tenderness and concern, I think it more than qualifies them as ("real") parents. For real. 

*The Adoption Center has gathered information on the basics of state laws and compiled a chart which references the basic information on search and reunion, include obtaining original birth certificates. Please visit www.adopt.org "Adoption Search and Reunion" section, "Searching Based on State" and click on the link National Adoption Search and Reunion Info.

13Oct

California Foster Care Age to 21 Now

Last week in the state of California, landmark legislation was passed that says that children are allowed to stay in foster care until the age of 21 as opposed to the prior age of 18. Aging out is a topic that we’ve addressed on this blog before and is still a problem many children in foster care experience today. California joins just a handful of states that currently have similar legislation of keeping kids in foster care until age 21. The problem with forcing kids out of foster care at age 18 is that many children are unable to provide and take care of themselves. Think back to when you were 18 years old…even though you thought you knew it all and could take on anything, you really couldn’t. There is so much you don’t know and can’t do at that age. There is still much naivety and inexperience of life. 

Because these youths are were forced out with no permanent adult guidance and little preparation for the real world, most kids ended up in homeless shelters or may get involved in misconduct and end up in jail. In fact, according to research done by the Urban Institute at the University of Chicago, approximately one in four teens forced out of foster care end up in jail. And with the high school graduation rate being less than 50%, more than half of them are also unemployed and homeless. Coming out of foster care should mean new beginnings and a fresh start for kids, not a bleak outlook with high probability of paucity and hardship. Kids need guidance to help them to adulthood, whether that comes from an adoptive or foster parent. (We obviously prefer an adoptive family.)

This new foster care legislation is optional for the teens. If they decide that they’re ready for the world at age 18, they can leave just as many have done in the past. But now there is the option for those who believe they can benefit from a few more years in foster care and still have the hope of finding a forever family. 

For more information: http://www.mercurynews.com/top-stories/ci_16237960 

8Oct

Kept Promises

Today we got word that one of our youths, Miguel, is going to tonight's Phillies playoff game against the Cinicinatti Reds. Besides the hope of another amazing game like Roy Halladay's no-hitter, this is exciting news because it is a promise kept. Earlier this year, the Phillies hosted Miguel at Citizens Bank Park to fullfill a dream of his--meeting the Phillies. He and NBC10's Vai Sikehemia took a tour of the stadium and then went to the clubhouse where they met Mike Sweeney. Sweeney presented Miguel with his personal bat that had handwritten on it words of encouragement for this young man. They all then headed to the field where the entire team was practicing. Miguel met many players, including Ryan Howard, Shane Victorino, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins. 

Exciting enough, right? Well during this visit a member of the Phillies' PR staff promised Miguel playoff tickets if the Phillies made it. The Phillies played hard and made the playoffs and the promise was not forgotten. Miguel will be at tonight's game. 

While promises to any person, especially a child are important, in this case think of how much more this means. How many times have the adults in Miguel's life let him down? His parents were unable to keep the unspoken promise of parents everywhere to take care of their childern no matter what. What other promises, big or small, have been made to this child only to end up broken? This action is one adult's effort to prove to Miguel that many people do keep their promises, that he isn't forgotten. What can you do to help remind these children that they matter and that what is said to them is important? (And go PHILS!) 

6Oct

If Michael Oher can be adopted, why can’t I?

Last week, I visited with my newest youth added to the Wendy’s Wonderful Kids Program for Southern New Jersey. This was my second visit with Frank, a talkative, friendly 20 year old, who despite his age, still wants to find his forever family. Like most youth Frank’s age, he loves sports (especially the Phillies and the Eagles), cars, and girls. Also, like most youth in foster care, Frank is very close to aging out of the foster care system without finding his forever family.

Despite his biological parents’ rights being terminated over 9 years ago, Frank is still waiting for a family. Frank has a sibling who was adopted, but adoption efforts were never pursued for him. When I first met Frank, he immediately was open to receiving child-specific recruitment. Frank knew the type of family he wanted and even where he’d like to live.

On my second visit with Frank, he greeted me with a warm smile and a high-five. He eagerly told me that he found more states in which he would like for me to search for a family for him. On my previous visit, he had told me that I could look only in NJ, PA, DE and NY. This time, as we searched through a college football book that divides the teams by their divisions and states, Frank now let me know that he was open to me finding a family in 27 states. He shared with me that after he thought about it, it wasn’t so much the location of the family, but finding the right family for him, wherever they may be.

As I explained to Frank that I would do my very best to locate families for him, I also had the task of explaining to him that finding a family may not happen, mostly due to his age. Frank then looked up at me and asked, “Do you know who Michael Oher is?” I told him that I did, saying that he’s a professional football player (not wanting to focus on the movie about his life, or the fact that he had been adopted as a teen). Frank then looked up at me again and asked, “If Michael Oher can be adopted, why can’t I?” That question immediately made my heart feel heavy and my eyes water. Frank was right. Why couldn’t he still be adopted? Frank is a great young man, who deserves a loving family just like everyone else. His question immediately lit a fire under me…and made me want to put 200% effort into finding him the family that he deserves. Frank would love a family who is “nice” and likes sports. This future auto mechanic is open to being with a single-parent or a couple. Race is unimportant.

When I reviewed Frank’s files, it clearly states that he has expressed an interest in being adopted, but unfortunately, Frank is one of many youth who fell through the cracks of the foster care system. In 2009, 29,471 children aged out of foster care (according to AFCARS). It is my hope, that Frank will find his forever family, because we here at NAC believe, “there are no unwanted children, just unfound families" ™

For more information on Frank, or other Wendy’s Wonderful Kids participants from Southern New Jersey, please contact Crystal Allen, callen@adopt.org or 215-735-9988, Ext. 346. 

1Oct

Florida Ends Ban on Adoption by LGBT Community

A Florida appeals court today struck down a state law barring gay people from adopting. The decision affirms an earlier family court ruling in the case that would allow Martin Gill to adopt two foster children he is raising with his partner. The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Florida, which represent Gill in the case, called the decision a victory for the thousands of children waiting to be adopted in Florida. As the appeals court recognized in its opinion, the scientific evidence shows that “there are no differences in the parenting of homosexuals or the adjustment of their children. . . [and] the issue is so far beyond dispute that it would be irrational to hold otherwise; the best interests of children are not preserved by prohibiting homosexual adoption.”

The National Adoption Center wholeheartedly supports this landmark decision and only wonders why it wasn’t enacted sooner. 

1Sep

The Tragedy of Aging Out

Thirty thousand children leave foster care each year without any family. The technical term for this is "emancipation." The better description is "unconscionable failure."

In most states, children leaving foster care at 18 (or 21 in some places)receive a small one-time payment -- in New York City it’s $750, not even enough for a security deposit on a small apartment. It is not uncommon for a social worker to drive that 18year old to a homeless shelter for his or her first night of "emancipation." According to the largest study ever conducted of kids who had aged out of foster care, by their mid-twenties, only half of these young adults were employed. Nearly 60% of the men had been convicted of a crime. Two thirds of the women were receiving food stamps.

The great tragedy of kids aging out of foster care is just how unnecessary it is. The system for adopting children from foster care is badly broken. Look at any child aging out and you will see lost opportunities -- the 9-year-old whose worker didn't return phone calls from a prospective parent, the 12 year old who wasn't placed because terrific potential parents lived in another state. The 14 year old the state decided to prepare for "independent living" rather than focus on adoption. 
Children come into foster care because a state determines there is abuse or neglect. When the state decides that a child can't go home and terminates parental rights, that child becomes, in both a legal and moral sense, our child. 

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