WANTED: adoptive parents for the state's 'waiting children'
In Pennsylvania, 1,100 children need parents; 75 are from Allegheny County. They are state-created orphans for whom no adoptive parents have been found.
Fewer than a dozen are infants, and that's only part of the reason they're a hard sell. The other part is that most are hurt in some way. They may be emotionally scarred or physically handicapped.
Agencies such as the Statewide Adoption Network that try to place the children advise potential parents to think twice and study up.
Among the books they recommend is "Adopting the Hurt Child: Hope for Families with Special Needs Kids." It tells of dealing with a child's past emotional and physical atrocities and losses. Then there's "Adoption and the Sexually Abused Child" and "Driven to Distraction," on attention deficit disorder, because a disproportionate number of these kids have it.
"Adopting a child with special needs is a demanding job with few guarantees but lots of possibilities," the SWAN literature says. "These children need families who will acknowledge their personal issues, value them as unique instead of perfect, and help them rebuild their lives. They need love, stability and a chance to thrive."
Gregory C. Keck, co-author of "Adopting the Hurt Child" tells what it's like to live with some emotionally disturbed foster kids: They may make no eye contact or they may be indiscriminately affectionate, willing to walk away with any stranger at the mall.
They may steal things they could have had for the asking. They may eat too much or too little or just squirrel food away in their bedrooms. They may refuse to talk or talk only to themselves.
One child Keck counseled could take anything apart. The door fell off the foster family's van. Dresser drawers came apart. Chairs collapsed. The child took the hands off clocks. He didn't break them. He just removed one hand. "He created," Keck says, "a metaphor for the lives of all foster children."
Before getting into this, SWAN advises, ask yourself why you want to adopt. What are your expectations? How do you feel about the child continuing contact with birth parents? How patient are you? How well do you handle stress? Have you ever spent time with someone who has a disability?
To help potential adoptive parents, there are adoption subsidies available for many children, including minority youths, those who are physically or emotionally handicapped, sibling groups, and those 5 and older. Almost all qualify for Medicaid insurance. And adoptive parents can get a one-time federal income tax credit for adoption expenses of $6,000 for children with special needs, and $5,000 for other children.
Despite all that, an estimated 3 percent to 15 percent of these adoptions fail. The adoptive parents turn the child back in to the child welfare system, and agencies find themselves with an even more difficult sell because the child has been emotionally battered by another rejection.
Detroit Juvenile Court Judge Patricia B. Campbell, who's had to perform some of those terminations, says adoptions fail when the adoptive parents don't get the counseling, background or medical information they need. "They need to know what they are getting into."
Holly van Gulden, a counselor and writer on adoption from Minneapolis, says adoptions are arranged marriages in which the child doesn't get to choose the partner.
"These are children who don't know how to stay in a family. . . . They are better at saying goodbye than hello because of what we have done to them since the day they were born -- neglect, abuse and frequent moves."
She is counseling a kid with two failed adoptions. He doesn't want to try again. He told her, "I am not going to be like Liz Taylor."
Van Gulden warns: "You can place all of them, but many are not available to accept control, authority, love, commitment and joy."
She also says it can work: "It is our job to get through the coal to the diamond at the core. It is not their job to bust it out."
The descriptions of the children come from a catalog the Statewide Adoption Network uses to advertise children available for adoption. The phone number for the Network is 1-800-585-SWAN. The number for the National Adoption Center is 215-735-9988.
JAMES, age 6 1/2
James is a serious fellow whose big brown eyes sparkle with enthusiasm in new situations. . . . James has an extensive vocabulary and recalls individuals and events readily. Because of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, James is enrolled in a learning support class with wraparound services and weekly individual therapy. James responds best to a set routine and close supervision.
I.D. number: 4893K
ALLEN, age 6
Allen, who is of African American and Caucasian heritage, is a happy, affectionate child with a sweet disposition. He likes to be cuddled and interacts well with other children. Although Allen is basically nonverbal, he is able to say a few words and has developed a way of communicating his needs through the use of gestures. Allen has moderate mental retardation and a rare physical condition which affects the abdominal muscles and urinary tract.
KALIF, age 11; AQEEL, age 8; and TAKEIA, age 6
Kalif is a very outgoing child who makes friends easily and enjoys his role as the "big brother." He enjoys a variety of sports and plays the trombone in the school orchestra. . . . Although he tends to socialize too much in class and could improve his study habits, he is described as an average student.
Aqeel is also a friendly child, but not as outgoing as his older brother. . . . He loves school and is described as a good student. He needs to concentrate on improving his listening skills, however.
Takeia is a bright, active little girl. . . . She enjoys dressing up and having her hair done. . . . She enjoys school and is quite the "teacher's little helper." She needs to build up her self-confidence, however.
ANNE MARIE, age 12
Anne Marie is a likable young lady who makes friends easily. She plays flute in the school band, enjoys playing basketball and doing arts and crafts. Anne Marie is a good student but on an as-needed basis receives tutorial help in math. Although Anne Marie has required intensive therapeutic interventions to deal with her emotional difficulties, she has progressed so well that the services have been discontinued. Anne Marie, who is of African American and Caucasian heritage, is looking forward to being adopted. . . . One thing she would really like is to be able to live in the country.
DAN, age 13
Dan has a friendly, outgoing personality and is well liked by his peers. He is involved in many activities, including Scouts, sports and church. For several years, while living with various foster parents, Dan experienced significant emotional difficulties. Since he moved to a residential facility, he has made great progress in dealing with the causes of his difficulties. Dan has also put forth much effort to improve his school performance.
ADELL, age 12; and ANDREA, age 10
Adell and Andrea have been together through several foster placements within the past six years. The many changes in their young lives have taught them to rely heavily on each other. Adell is the typical "parental child," used to meeting her sister's needs as well as her own; trusting adults and respecting their authority are challenges for Adell. To help her deal with unresolved loss issues, Adell receives therapy . . . Adell and Andrea need a family with a great deal of confidence and patience, one who recognizes that gaining a reciprocal relationship with the girls will be hard won, but rewarding.