Each year more than 20,000 young people “age out” of the foster care system. For many of them, their childhood and adolescent years were marked by the instability of multiple placements. As a result, these youth are at a higher risk for unemployment, poor academic achievement, early parenthood and homelessness than their peers living at home with their families.

When youth in foster care “age out,” they no longer have the assistance of the state or foster families and many of them do not have the skills to live on their own. According to an article in Children’s Issues, in just four years after leaving foster care, 25% of “aged out” youth have been homeless, 42% have become parents, fewer than 20% are able to support themselves, and only 46% have graduated from high school.

Unable to earn a wage sufficient for obtaining suitable housing, many end up in homeless shelters. In Philadelphia, the People’s Emergency Center (PEC) and the University of Pennsylvania School of Design are collaborating in a project to develop innovative affordable housing. The project, the Bernice Eliza Homes in the West Powelton section of the city, is a recently opened new six-family apartment house catering to hard-to-place homeless youth with children.

According to Gloria Guard, president of the non-profit PEC, which provides shelter and service to homeless families, there is a great demand for this type of housing. Many of those in the organization’s shelters have “aged out” of the city’s foster care system. For them, the PEC is providing hope for the future as well as a home. 

The Center’s initiative directed at the LGBT community to encourage consideration of adoption coincides with the adoption anti-discrimination bill introduced by U.S. Representative from California Pete Stark. His bill would restrict federal funds for states that discriminate in adoption or foster care on the basis of marital status, sexual orientation or gender identity.

Stark’s legislation is a response to the 25,000 children each year who “age out” of the child welfare system without a permanent home. 

We agree with Representative Stark that members of the LGBT community could reduce those numbers dramatically if they felt welcome as prospective adopters. The Center is working with adoption agencies to make that happen.

It is estimated that 2 million lesbian, gay or bisexual persons are interested in adoption. The backlog of children in foster care who desperately want to belong to a family could benefit dramatically if they could be “matched” with some of those individuals or couples.

There are nine states—Florida, Mississippi, Utah, Michigan, Arkansas, Nebraska, Kentucky, Ohio and Wisconsin—that explicitly prohibit LGBT couples from adopting children. This condition exists despite the numerous studies indicating that children who grow up in gay and lesbian homes are as well adjusted, happy and healthy as those raised by heterosexual parents. It is love and caring, not sexual orientation, that make the difference in the way a child grows up. 

Representative Stark believes chances of the legislation passing this Congress are “pretty good,” and said that a hearing could take place this year in a House Ways & Means subcommittee. He is looking for a Republican co-sponsor for the legislation, then will work on getting Senate companion legislation introduced.

The Center supports the legislation. We hope you do too. You can respond to us here, reach out to your Representatives and Senators and/or contact someone in a “red state” and ask them to contact members of Congress or their senators, pointing out that this legislation will make a difference in the way thousands of children grow up. 

This past weekend we had a Match Party in Houston, Delaware. Sam Yoder's Farm provided a gorgeous setting and while it was windy, the weather held for us. The purpose of a Match Party is to provide a relaxed atmosphere for guided interactions between adoptable youths from foster care and home studied families. We play games or participate in activities which get the adults and youths talking to each other and working together on common goals. 

My station was the pumpkin painting table. Here each person got a small pumpkin or two to paint. (Pumpkins graciously donated by Steve fromHurricane Hill Farm in Coatsville, Pennsylvania.) The youths jumped right into this activity. Some designs were abstract, some modern, some pretty, some goofy and some traditional. Each unique as the child. 

As they painted the potential parents chatted with the youths. Some offered encouragement and really focused on the child's painting. While other potential parents painted alongside the children while chatting with them about unrelated topics. Most stayed engrossed in the activity for the full time allotted. Whether the enthusiastic participation was as a distraction from the normal concerns at such an event or because of a sense of fun, it doesn't matter. The painting served as the icebreaker it was meant to be. From my vantage point, I could see all the typical family interactions which take place -encouragement, correction, freedom and boundaries. I could see that some adults were comfortable in the role of "parent" while others still needed to find their way. 

The reactions of the children also varied. Some were eager to show their talent, some defended their unique visions. Some comfortably chatted to anyone who listened while others depended on adults carefully drawing them out. Between the planned activities and lunch, there was plenty of time for people to get comfortable and chat. 

Our hope is that these interactions result in matches that will result in permanent families. We'll have a later post giving out the results of this party. (Although it can take 6 months to a year to know significant outcomes.) From the smiles on kids' faces I know we were successful in making a day for the youths to enjoy. The parents also looked like they had fun. Hopefully all got to see that the potential parents and the children are all just normal people. No one needs to be scared or worried about the other. Some people are shy, some talkative; some happier than others. Regardless all children deserve a permanent home full of love and security. 

BTW: we have a Teen Match Party coming up in northern NJ next week. If you're a homestudied family, we'd love to have you come on out. Call us at 215-735-9988 or email to register. 

In March 2010, everyone in the U.S. will be asked to fill out a Census questionnaire. The results of the data collected will directly affect how more than $400 billion per year in federal and state funding is allocated to communities for neighborhood improvements, public health, education, transportation, and much more. In addition, the census is used to apportion seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, to redistrict state legislatures,

The Census does not ask if the respondent is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. To help the LGBT community complete the form, the Human Rights Campaign has listed “10 things to know about the 2010 Census” on its website ( 

Among the suggestions:
• LGBT couples who are married should check “husband” or “wife.” Other same-sex couples should check “unmarried partner.”
• Transgender people should identify with whichever sex on the census form they feel best applies to them.
• LGBT people of color in bi-racial relationships should consider identifying as head of household.

HRC also notes that the Obama administration has directed the Census Bureau to determine what changes need to be made in tabulation software to include married same-sex couples in census reports. Hopefully, this can be done so that everyone’s marriage will be treated with equal respect. 

Nia Vardalos, who adopted a child from foster care, has been named spokesperson of the 2009 National Adoption Day in November. In making the announcement, the National Adoption Day Coalition said the award winning actress/writer/director will share her story as an adoptive parent. Vardalos, Academy Award and Golden Globe nominee for the motion picture My Big Fat Greek Wedding, and her husband, Ian Gomez, adopted a 3-year-old girl last year.

Vardalos is an advocate for foster care adoption in the United States. “My goal is to raise awareness about foster family agencies who can connect prospective parents with the 129,000 legally free children in the United States waiting for a family,” Vardalos said. “I am pleased to spread the message that American foster care, while maintaining the highest level of screening, does not discriminate against applicants for reasons of income level, marital status or sexual orientation.”

Of the children in foster care in the U.S. waiting for adoption, here are some statistics, provided by Voice for Adoption.

47% are nine-years-old and older
Nearly 42 months is the average stay in foster care
Children of color stay in foster care longer and have fewer adoptions than their
white peers
Nearly 90% of children adopted from foster care in 2006 had special needs
In 2006, more than 26,000 “aged out” of foster care

“If it comes to a point that the family is so toxic for the child that termination of parental rights and staying in foster care (thus making the child free to be adopted) is in the child’s best interest, I don’t have a problem with it at all. Why would I want to keep a connection between a toxic parent and a child?” This is one judge’s comment in a recent Brief by Child Trends a research organization based in Washington D.C. Sounds reasonable, doesn't it. Yet often it seems that judges are loathe to terminate parental rights. Is this because of a belief that it is a right to raise a child any way a parent sees fit? 

What advice would you give the judiciary in helping them to decide when it’s appropriate to terminate the parental rights of a child? Is it ever appropriate or not appropriate? Would it help more children to be adopted rather then continue to languish in foster care while waiting for their biological parents to “get their act together?” 

Meet the newest addition to Wendy’s Wonderful Kids in Delaware, Na’Heim! I had a great time hanging out with Na’Heim at our first visit. He was outgoing and friendly with me right from the start! Na’Heim was eager to show off what a talented artist he is. He loves writing his name in bubbles letters, and can draw any animal you ask him too! He is an expert at games like Sorry and Uno, and has a very competitive nature. We played several rounds of Uno and Tic Tac Toe, and he concentrated very hard to win! Na’Heim is a big sports fan, and thinks that football is his best sport. He is always up for a game of football or his second favorite sport, basketball. 

Na’Heim is an adorable boy with so much energy. He has been through a lot in his short life, and is receiving services to deal with the trauma that he has faced. Na’Heim needs a stable family that will provide loving role models and give Na'Heim an opportunity to excel. Na’Heim says that he would like a fun family who is always willing to play with him and have good food at dinner time! He also would like to have pets in his home that he can take feed and take care of. 

The Wendy’s Wonderful Kid’s program is the signature program of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. Since the Delaware program launched on January 1, 2005, we’ve had 33 finalizations and there are 9 children currently matched and placed with their future forever families! If you would like more information on Na’Heim or on the Wendy’s Wonderful Kid’s Program, please contact me at, or at 215-735-9988 x319. 

My job as Program Director at the Adoption Center has been made easier over the past year because of a great team of adoption coordinators who work effortlessly together on all aspects of the Center’s programs. 

Sheina Martinez is our Family Advocate and Wednesday’s Child Coordinator. If you are a first time caller about adoption, you will receive a warm, welcoming response from Sheina who will encourage you, answer your questions and provide you with the correct information so you can move ahead with your plans to adopt. 

Amy Cressman, our Wendy’s Wonderful Kids Recruiter for children in Delaware, is our newest team member. She immediately embraced the Center’s philosophy “There are no unwanted children, just unfound families.” She fit in so well that we put her in charge of planning our next match party in Delaware, knowing that she would do a great job! 

I would especially like to recognize Crystal Allen, our Wendy’s Wonderful Kids Recruiter for south Jersey on her first year anniversary with the Center today. Crystal is a tireless champion for the children waiting for adoptive families and brings her energy, boundless enthusiasm and passion for the mission of the Center to work everyday. Happy Anniversary, Crystal and we hope there will be many more to celebrate together. 

Our program team is ready; don’t hesitate to contact them. 

Sheina Martinez, Wednesday’s Child Coordinator and Adoption Coordinator 
(215) 735-9988 @ ext. 311
Amy Cressman, Wendy’s Wonderful Kids Recruiter/Delaware Adoption Coordinator
(215) 735-9988 @ ext. 319 or toll free (877) 799-6900
Crystal Allen, Wendy’s Wonderful Kids Recruiter for South New Jersey and Adoption Coordinator 
(215) 735-9988 @ ext. 346 or toll free (877) 799-6900

Christine Jacobs
Program Director 

More than 500,000 children in this country live in foster care; l20,000 will not be able to return to their families. In Philadelphia, a new public awareness campaign, Raise Me Up, hopes to enlist volunteers and mentors for those children.

In a press conference yesterday, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, and Department of Human Services Commissioner Anne Marie Ambrose said that the city cannot do the job alone—that its citizens must step up and take a strong role in the lives of the children who are at risk of growing up homeless, despondent, less likely to complete high school and more likely to end up in a life of crime, addiction and poverty.

The Honorable Max Baer, justice of Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court, said that ideally children should be raised by their own families, if possible. When they cannot and are placed in foster care, he or she has a better chance of success if there is a mentor involved in his life. “Foster parents are wonderful,” he said, “but foster care is a flawed system. Children need permanent families.”

We agree. If a child can not be returned to his birth family, we believe that adoption should be his or her goal. Meanwhile, mentors and volunteers can help boost a child’s confidence and contribute to his self-esteem. But an adoptive family should be sought for him before he succumbs to the devastating outcomes inevitably visited on children without permanence in their lives. 

Happy Friday!!

This week I want to talk about the term “special needs” as applied to children in foster care and how non-social work professionals view this term. The “special needs” label in the foster care system means that there is something about the child that needs some extra attention. Did you know that having a sibling can categorize a child as having “special needs”? Wow, I guess I was special needs when I was a child! :-)

Having learning disabilities are another thing that classifies a child as “special needs”. Many children in foster care have a learning disability simply because they have changed schools often. So much so, that they have not had the opportunity to be on the same page as everyone else, and are constantly playing catch up. 

I wonder if individuals don’t adopt from the foster care system because they do not want a “special needs” child. To me, the term “special needs” just means they need someone special to parent them. If you are special and want to consider adoption, please contact me. I would like to answer your questions, concerns, and maybe even break some myths about adoption. 

What behaviors, needs or disabilities, do you consider special needs? What issues do you not consider special needs? 

Would a label of "special needs" automatically stop you from considering an adoption from the foster care system? Would you now ask for more clarification about what the special need is? 

SMART aka Sheina Martinez