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For the past two days our entire staff, including volunteers and interns, along with members of Philadelphia's Department of Human Services have been involved in All Children, All Families training. This training was run by Ann McCabe, a consultant to the All Children, All Families Campaign and a licensed Family and Marriage Therapist and Ellen Kahn, Family Project Director at the Human Rights Campaign. The training provided us with training on LGBT Cultural Competency for Foster Care and Adoption Agencies. Modules included Foundations of Effective Practice with LGBT Parents, Putting Out the Welcome Mat: Establishing Agency Communications, Spaces and Recruitment Practices that Embrace LGBT Families.

Over the course of over 10 hours we were exposed to and got to explore the issues which face the LGBT community in general and specifically when going through the adoption process. We discussed the potential barriers to adoption, like the explicit prohibition in 9 states, and ways we could address the concerns of those facing these challenges.

On the positive side, we also looked at the strengths that LGBT individuals bring to the table when choosing to adopt. Many of those in the community have had to overcome obstacles, grief and loss like so many of the children and youths we see. This compassion and understanding can create a strong bond.

We will be using the training we went through to implement strategies to plan outreach to prospective adoptive/foster parents from the LGBT community. Center staff will also review all agencies materials to assess if the Center materials convey the message that the Center is a welcoming environment for LGBT prospective adoptive parents. 

From our friends at Voice for Adoption

Opportunities for former foster youth or adopted youth from foster care: 

Orphan Foundation of America is accepting scholarship applications for the 2009-2010 school year. Youth in foster care or adopted after their 16th birthday are eligible for college scholarships; the deadline is March 31, 2009. Visit www.orphan.org for more information. 

FosterClub is accepting applications for its 2009 All-Star internship. Eligible applicants are between the ages of 18-24 and have spent time in foster care, including young people that have been adopted from foster care. Interns will travel and mentor their peers in the system. Applications are due March 1st, please visit: www.fosterclub.com. 

Many people are wondering how our tanking economy is affecting adoption. Are fewer people inclined to adopt in these troubled times? Does the availability of adoption subsidies for children in the foster care system make this kind of adoption more affordable? What about those who have spent big bucks to adopt a child from another country? 

The answer is that it is too soon to tell. Certainly, many of those who have been able to bear the cost of international adoption, which can be considerable, and of adoption of infants in this country, which is often costly, may not be able to do it now. However, the need for a child is so strong for most people thinking about adoption that they may cut down on other expenses before postponing the addition of a child to their families.

On the other hand, there is little cost to adopting a child from this country’s foster care system. These children who are mainly of school age through teenagers need permanent families; many have been waiting for a long time for parents to give them the security and stability that all children need and deserve. The current economic climate may work in their favor. 

Let us know what you think. 

This past Monday Chris Jacobs and I had the pleasure of presenting at the Child Welfare League of America's National Conference. What we were discussing is the appropriate use of interactive technologies such as this blog to address our mission. Here at the National Adoption Center we want to expand the adoption opportunities of children living in foster care throughout the United States, and is a resource to families and to agencies who seek the permanency of caring homes for children. This website and blog are one way we do that.

Last night many of our staff participated in another method of outreach. This was an event leading up to a match party we are holding in March. Teenagers are the focus of this match party. To prepare them for the event, and to assist them in general, we hold a series of pre-match-party events. At these events the youths can meet each other face to face, they are introduced to the facilitator of the match party and build social skills in activities he runs. Also, the entire group were were entertained by a Hip-Hop dance company, FaceLess. 

Through each of the programs and services we offer, we keep our mission in mind. We truly belive in finding permanent solutions for the children and youths in the foster care system. We want to assist those people who want to adopt become educated and prepared to be great parents. Please share with us your ideas about new programs or services we can provide to assist us in our mission. 

SaraKay Smullens is a social worker, family therapist and author who practices in Philadelphia. She is our guest blogger for today.

It is a moment etched forever. My husband and I were in a New York theater; it was intermission. Returning to my seat I saw a woman about a decade younger than I am. She was kissing an adolescent seductively on the neck, as she rubbed her back. The young girl pulled away, and the woman slapped her hard across the face. I had no idea of the history of this adult and child. Was the older woman a mother, a caretaker? I waited until I saw where both were seated and left the theater to call the police. By the time they arrived, the play was over, and I could not find either the older woman or the adolescent.

This incident unnerved me because I have worked for so long with children and teenagers who suffer at the hands of both caretakers and family members. I know one thing for sure: abusive parents grew up in abusive homes. Without intervention, these cycles of abuse intensify as generations pass. Children in abusive homes are in danger, and unless the parents receive intensive help which they have taken seriously and to heart, that will not change.

If you witness child abuse, call the police or the department of human services in your area. Many have a child abuse hot line. These families need a lot of help. Over the years, I have urged our city officials and those leading child welfare programs to train a team of professionals—lawyers, police, physicians, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, therapists—that a vulnerable family could rely on, a team that could be there for them 24/7 when they face inner terrors or dangerous choices. And I have urged also that experienced supervisors be there with consistency for this team because working with these families is draining, unnerving and unsettling.

For the sad reality is that some biological parents can not or will not ever know how to provide homes that are safe and caring. While no one likes to see children separated from their parents, sometimes there is no better solution than finding a loving family to adopt the child and give him or her a better life. When adoption is necessary, the family and the child do not require an exact cultural match. What is necessary is a home offering love and safety. What better example of this than our 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama, who spent the bulk of his formative years cared for, protected and loved by his white maternal grandparents.

Meanwhile, if you witness an incident not sufficient for police or child welfare agency intervention, but nonetheless disturbing, there is something you can do. For instance, if you see a mom demeaning a child in a public place, it is probably not smart for you to confront the mom immediately. I suggest waiting until things have settled down. At that time, you can approach the parent and say something like, “I have been noticing what a beautiful child you have. You are just so fortunate.” The parent may be stunned at your kindness and the compliments you offer. And you may be putting a drop of kindness into a painful void that could help the parent see her child and herself in a new light. 

We wanted to remind everyone of a partnership the National Adoption Center has with a local newspaper. We work with the Philadelphia Inquirer to feature a youth who is ready for adoption from the foster care system. This feature appears every Monday.

Here is a link to today's featured youth, Ashley. You may read all about her by going to the Inquirer's website by clicking here. 

The National Adoption Center invites prospective parents who are interested in adopting older youth to join us for two exciting events:

Philadelphia, Pa.
March 28, 2009 – 11:00 am – 3:00 pm
Pittsburgh, Pa.
May 9, 2009 – 10:00 am – 2:00 pm

Prospective adoptive parents who are approved by their agency will meet 25-30 teens who would like to be adopted. Families and youth will participate in fun activities, enjoy watching a hip hop dance troupe and eat lunch.

There is no fee to attend. Registration is limited. Sorry, children and relatives of prospective parents may not attend.

Please contact Julie Marks, project manager, with questions. She may be reached at 215-735-9988x367 or pateen@adopt.org

We'll have an online registration form available shortly. 

Today we are proud to have a guest blogger, Dr. Chuck Williams. He is an Assistant Clinical Professor and is the Director of the Center for the Prevention of School-Aged Violence at the Goodwin College- School of Education at Drexel University. He hosts a radio talk show on The Big Talker - 1210 AM and hosts his own blog, Dr. Chuck Speaks.

Question: Will Mr. Obama replace traditional negative role models for young black males in America? Some seem to think a President Obama will usher in a new era, if you will, as it relates to models for young black men. This could be key, given that most folks feel that one of the major problems, as it relates to violence and chronic underachievement among black male youth, is that their familial and media models are poor examples of moral, positive and socially desirable behavior. So, if it is the case that Mr. Obama will offer a new positive image of a successful black male, super imposed over readily available negative ones (a situation further exacerbated by the marked lack of appropriate familial models), he may actually serve as a catalyst for a social paradigm shift in the black community which has been a long time coming. This vision speaks to me personally. I grew up in foster care and was never adopted, certainly a recipe for failure. But, unlike most young people in similar positions, I found an inner strength that pushed me to achieve and to be successful. To a large extent, appropriate familial models aided in my eventual success.
 

As someone who has worked as a counselor, educator and community leader for more than a decade, I have found, at least anecdotally, that young black males tend to parrot and embrace the socially undesirable behaviors and self-fulfilling negative images, which have been packaged and marketed to them by those who, ironically, look like them and claim to have their best interest at heart, i.e., BET. This unfortunate situation is then reinforced by the overwhelming access to negative familial models-- drug addicted mothers and chronically incarcerated fathers and older brothers who spend more time in youth detention centers than school. However, as one can imagine, these black youth are unaware of the full implications of this. Moreover, sinister and unaccountable black media executives , who are responsible for much of this media induced mess have foolishly decided that this social poison should be created, given that it "reflects black culture." Therein lies the rub. (This does not suggest that so-called black pop culture is, by default, all evil. I've just purchased T. I.'s new release Paper Trail, and his song "Live your life" is very apropos this discussion.) We, as a community, have allowed the lack of appropriate familial models and "urban media" to solely define who young black males are and what they should become.

While I can't claim to understand all of the variables or life dynamics which may lead an individual to choose one path versus the other, what I do know is this: The best buffer against negative images is a loving and caring family who loves you and is there for you through good times and bad, a family who will give you security and guidance and help you become the best that you can be and provide for you positive familial models. That’s why I’m an advocate for placing children who lack appropriate guidance from familial models in adoptive families and encourage those in our community to open their homes and their hearts to the many young people, including teenage boys, who wait for families to want and love them. I know too that there’s been no successful collective effort towards encouraging our young black males to choose education, a profession and career outside of the drug, sports/entertainment arenas. By reinforcing stereotypical media images we have enabled young black males to engage in behaviors fraught with unnecessary risks and diminished returns. That is to say, they tend to throw caution to the wind and embrace goals and beliefs which are far reaching, irrational and non reality-based. In the absence of appropriate familial models and support, they are left to their own childish devices.

Also, young black men, who lack appropriate familial models, tend to hold dear to non reality-based, black media induced ideals and goals, while ignoring any opportunity for reasonable and necessary approximations toward goal attainment...of any sort. That is to say, their goals are profanely out of sync with reality. Yet, instead of acknowledging this point of fact, they become more aggravated by the fact that society does not give in to their non reality-based view of goal attainment and they begin to see society as the 'enemy'. Once this adversarial approach has been adopted by the young black male, the anti-social and overtly aggressive behavior, i.e., adopting the gun and drug culture, begins.

Moreover, in the mind of the young black male, such behavior is more than justified under the guise -- "They won't let me reach my dream, so I gotta do what I gotta do!" There tends to be a lack of motivation about these young black men. Some falsely characterize this phenomenon as 'laziness,' yet this would be a misnomer. The avolitional behavior which can be observed, or the appearance of not having interest or applying effort is a manifestation of 'chasing the impossible’. If you know that you want to be a millionaire, tomorrow, but you're a high school drop out, living in your mother's basement, you're probably not going to appear to be too motivated. This is because intuitively there's a sense that your goals are in fact unrealistic, but given the irresponsible decisions that have been made, which have led you to the basement of your mother's home at 23 years of age, without a high school diploma and/or post-secondary training, feeling as though you’re 'in too deep' or 'too far behind' creates a sense of social lethargy. This of course is facilitated by the casual and regular abuse of large quantities of marijuana (blunts) and alcohol. Yes, the perfect storm.

The core issue here is the reinforcement of this glorified and unrealistic lifestyle, by inappropriate models and the unconscious assimilation of readily available negative media stereotypes. Let me be clear: life for a young black male, even with good homes and decent parents, is not without its significant challenges. There's institutionalized racism, low-expectations, lack of regard, lack of support, social barriers, etc. However, as Dubois once stated "with all we accomplish all." So, one could argue that it is now time for positive familial models and popular media to encourage our young black men to pursue a path which can lead to them becoming a PhD, business owner, tradesman, teacher, decent father, loving son, or President of the United States.

It is my hope, that the very presence of a President Obama will cause the black community to seize this opportunity to re-cast the die and challenge these erroneous media created assumptions which send our young black men to prison or the morgue, not the White House. moreover, having a child in need, who lacks appropriate familial models, placed in a loving and caring adoptive home will take some of the weight off Mr. Obama's shoulders.

A version of this post appeared on his site last week.


Yesterday we were at the MLK Day of Service organized at Temple University. We'll have more pictures up later, but here's a few to give you a taste of the day.

We had a booth where other volunteers could find information about our programs. Above are Crystal and Sheina running that table.

We had volunteers from Moore College of Art who helped us build quilts honoring those children who have and are currently assisted by our programs. 

On Monday we will be participating in the MLK Day of Service. Our project is to make quilts with the faces of the children we have or are still assisting in their journey towards permanence. Here are some pictures of the quilt in progress. In the first few you are seeing how each square for the quilt is made -- each image of a child must be transferred to the cloth. We wish to thank Sharon Kenny of Kenny’s Imprintables and her artist with a press, Brent.

Without their guidance, expertise and hot press we would not have been able to complete this project. Here's what the final pieces look like now:

On Monday we'll be at Temple University to complete the quilt with volunteers from Moore College of Art and local corporation. We post pictures and thanks after the event.

The motivation for this is MLK's example of service and compassion for his fellow man. We'll be sharing the following with those who come in person, but I'd like to share it with you now too.

An Adoption Tribute to Martin Luther King

This essay was written by a teenaged member of FAIR. His passion and understanding grew from experiences in his own family, built through birth and adoption.

As the nation celebrates the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., people remember his message of bringing justice to all human beings through non-violent methods. Dr. King fought not only for the rights of African Americans, but for the rights of all the oppressed. Perhaps if he were alive today, he would be marching and fighting for the thousands of children without families.

The unadopted children face the same kind of dilemma the Blacks did in King’s time. Excluded systematically from the system which controls them, children are shuttled from foster home to foster home, often suffering abuse and neglect in the bureaucracy which cares nothing for their fate.

With the remembrance of Dr. King, we remember the origins of the civil rights movement, especially the quiet determination of Rosa Parks. Ms. Parks broke the chain of power which held her and her fellow Blacks repressed. Her message is mirrored by the families and parents who take children into their families. With quiet determination and tough decisions, parents silently break the chain of loneliness locking up a child. Many such parents have no such grandiose ideals; they simply want to parent a child. Neither did Ms. Parks identify her actions as historically monumental.

Ms. Parks and thousands of others went to jail for their actions and beliefs. Some paid with their lives, and nearly all paid with sweat and pain. Adopting is likewise often a struggle, a struggle to understand, a struggle of restraint, a struggle to love. Most adoptive parents can tell you their pain with unaccepting relatives, with children who tell them they don’t care about them, or with old histories buried in confused young psyches. But while the civil rights demonstrators had to learn no-violence to not fight back, parents must learn an even harder kind of non-violence: they must learn to love, nurture and understand.

Dr. King was a great man with enough room in his heart for all his fellow men. The unadopted children of this country would have a spokesperson who would bring their plight before the public and expose the injustice heaped upon them. Parents need to tell the world about adoption, especially the adoption of older and special needs children. Rosa Parks took her seat, but it took Dr. King to organize a boycott and desegregate the Montgomery buses.

The children need a Dr. King to stand up for them and demand their rights. Dr. King taught us enough that perhaps we can pull together and save the children. The civil rights movement fought to change the laws, the unadopted children need new laws to protect them. Martin Luther King had a dream. We need to keep that dream alive for our brothers and sisters, sons and daughters who do not share our families.

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