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. 

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 "Adoption Search and Reunion" section, "Searching Based on State" and click on the link National Adoption Search and Reunion Info.

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: 

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!) 

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, or 215-735-9988, Ext. 346. 

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. 

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. 

At my last visit with brothers, Juwon and Tyrek, I asked them what they wanted in a Forever Family. By the end of the visit, I walked out of their foster home with 2 pages worth of notes about what they dreamed their adoptive family would be like. 

Both were very enthusiastic about expressing what they would want in a Forever Home. Some characteristics they wanted in a family were: To have a mom and a dad, to live in a nice quiet neighborhood, to have other siblings if possible, they must be a sports loving family, must like music including at least a little bit of hip hop, must like going on vacations and playing video games. Juwon wanted a house big enough to not get in trouble for making noise when playing his drum set. Tyrek wanted a family who knew how to make really good food, and could help him learn how to play the guitar. 

By the end of the list, the boys started getting silly, listing that they wanted flat-screen TVs in all rooms of the house, a refrigerator filled with root beer in their bedroom, and a go-cart track in the back yard. I told them that would probably not be possible, but hey you never know! 

The boys are adorable and so funny. They need a home where they can grow up together. These brothers are very close and look to each other for support. If you would like more information about Juwon & Tyrek, please contact me, Amy Cressman at 215-739-9988 ext. 319 or at

In its first-ever profile of America's adopted children, the U.S. Census Bureau said today that Census 2000 data show that adopted children under age 18 tended to live in households that were better off economically than those of biological children. 
For example, the bureau said, adopted children lived in households with a median income of $56,000 a year versus $48,000 for biological children, and 78 percent of adopted children lived in homes that were owned by their adoptive parents versus 67 percent of biological children.

The report, Adopted Children and Stepchildren: 2000, examines the characteristics of the nation's 2.1 million adopted children and 4.4 million stepchildren. For the first time, the Census 2000 questionnaire included "adopted son/daughter" as one of the options under the relationship-to-householder question separate from "natural born son/daughter" and "stepson/stepdaughter”.

The data are designed to assist agencies that serve adoptive families such as the National Adoption Information Clearinghouse of the Administration for Children and Families. The data also may inform policy-makers who develop legislation related to adoptive families such as the Multiethnic Placement Act of 1994, the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, and the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993. 

We often hear that potential adoptive parents, especially those already fostering children, are reluctant to adopt fearing college costs. The thought is that there is more support available if the child is never formally adopted than if he or she is.

If this concern is holding you back from creating a permanent relationship with a child, please read on. First there is The Fostering Adoption to Further Student Achievement Act, which states that when a child age 13 or above is adopted from foster care, the adoptive parents' income does not have to be factored into any federal financial aid application. This means the student will be considered independent and only his or her income (if any) will be considered when figuring out financial aid. For more information go to this Voice For Adoption Factsheet.

Next there are also many scholarships available from both state and private programs. For a very complete listing click here for the Child Information Gateway's College Scholarship and Tuition Waivers page. An additional resource is here:

Read more about the Education Training Voucher (ETV) program here. ETV awards grants to current and former foster youth to help pay for college or specialized education. In most states, eligible students may receive grants of up to $5,000 per academic year.

And also, another great resource is to be found here, the Orphan Foundation of America. (This is for children from foster care, not the strict definition of orphans, i.e. biological parents may still be living.)

Hopefully this information will help you make the choice to adopt easier for your family!