Need Stronger than Ever for Adoptions, Foster Care


By Barbara Thomas
The word adoption conjures up a certain image: an infertile couple becoming parents to a baby whose birth mother is unable to care for the child herself.
But there are several different types of adoption, including those that provide families to older or special needs children.
In Connecticut, there are children of all ages and needs who for safekeeping have been separated from their biological parents and are in state care. For these children, the state is always in need of adults with big hearts who are willing to open up their homes.
This type of adoption might prove more viable than international adoptions. There numbers have been plummeting as countries put in place greater restrictions.
“We need both foster homes and adoptive homes in greater numbers than we have now,” said Ken Mysogland, director of foster care and adoption services for the state Department of Children and Families (DCF).
That’s especially true for children of color.
“There are more African American and Hispanic children in foster care than other demographics,” he said.
In addition to the adoption options available in Connecticut and around the U.S., prospective parents can also choose international adoption. Each country has its own requirements for adoption, and many have become more selective in recent years.
That’s one reason why international adoptions are decreasing in number despite the fact that there are no fewer orphans, said Dr. Lori Snow, executive director of Rainbow Adoptions International, Inc. in Avon.
“Nationwide we hit the top number of international adoptions – 23,000 – in 2004,” she said. “The most recent year we have numbers for is 2009, when there were 9,300 international adoptions. In 2013, the projected number is 7,000.”

Placing Children in the Same Culture

DCF’s philosophy is that it is better to place a child in a home with the same culture and language, he said, and caseworkers strive to recruit within the Latino community. “We need to attract more Hispanic homes,” Mysogland said.
Toward that end, the department’s promotional materials have been translated into Spanish, he said. Other marketing efforts include announcements that are made every other week on a local Spanish radio station; a monthly advertisement that appears in a Latino newspaper; and videos that are taped monthly for Telemundo TV.
He credits the late Lisa Flower, a DCF program director, for getting information out to the Latino community about foster care. Ms. Flower, who died Jan. 13, developed and co-hosted a regular segment on La Puertorriquenisima radio, WPRX 1120 AM.  Her co-host was Felix Viera, who still does the announcements.
“We also have experts come in to work with our recruiters on how to penetrate the population and how to develop relationships in the Latino community,” Mysogland said. “Any time our recruiters go out to schools, PTA meetings or libraries, they market according to race, culture, and ethnicity.”
DCF social workers try to keep Latino children with relatives, he said.
“Placement of a child is one of the most traumatic experiences and when you have a relative, there’s a built-in support system,” Mysogland said. “A relative knows the child’s background.”
Accomplishing that goal is on the rise. “Since January 2011, 35 percent more children are living with relatives,” said Gary Kleeblatt, DCF communications director.

International Adoptions

The top five countries American families are currently adopting from are China, Russia, Ethiopia, South Korea and Guatemala, Snow said. However, the number of adoptions from each of these countries is dwindling.
“In China, we’re seeing longer waiting periods – from the previous six months to five years,” she said. “China is also more restrictive now, and South Korea is phasing out international adoptions.”
Russian adoptions have also become troublesome, Snow said, because requirements for parents and adoption costs have increased. In addition, President Vladimir Putin has proposed a bill barring Americans from adopting Russian children. “At least those adoptions that were in process will continue,” Snow said.
Adoptions from Guatemala were a good option for many years, she said, hitting a high number of 4,726 in 2007. But numbers have dropped since 2008, when the U.S. joined The Hague Adoption Convention, an international agreement that establishes safeguards for inter-country adoptions. The Guatemalan government is not compliant with that agreement, and the only adoptions that are being processed are ones that are grandfathered, Snow said.
“The Hague changed the face of international adoption,” she said. “It impacted me because I did a lot of adoptions from that country.”
Guatemala is where Snow and her husband adopted two of their four children; the other two children are from Bolivia.
As for other Latin American countries allowing Americans to adopt, some countries in Central America and South America only allow the adoption of children age 5 and over, she said.
Colombia is one Latino country that’s showing a consistent number of adoptions, Snow said, adding that the country offers good support to both birth mothers and children. More children could be adopted from Colombia, she said, but both parents must travel there for as long as four to eight weeks, which is hard for many couples. The country also has tight restrictions.
Snow cited three more Latin American countries Americans adopt from. In 2011, 22 children were adopted from Mexico; 13 from Peru; and 11 from Honduras. She has not heard about any new Latino countries coming forward to allow Americans to adopt.
Other factors contributing to a decrease in international adoptions, Snow said, are that Vietnam stopped doing them in 2008, and adoptions from Cambodia were frozen for three years. That country ended its ban on adoptions to Americans Jan. 1, but with restrictions: only children under the age of 8 can be adopted and no more than 200 adoptions will be done each year.
Regarding future trends, Snow said she is seeing an uptick in African countries offering adoption, including Ghana, Kenya, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is new to international adoption.
Whether an adoption is domestic or international, Snow said, one challenge agencies face is that not every family is willing to adopt a child of another race.
“They have to think about their extended family and the community they live in, as to how accepting they will be,” she said.
Whatever type of adoption is chosen – international, American newborn, or U.S. foster child – a home study will be required, Snow said. Prospective parents need to submit to background checks, fingerprinting, financial means verification, and personal discussions on subjects such as marriage, divorce if applicable, childhood, family relationships, and parenting style.

Foster Care Needed, Too

“We … have 15 percent fewer children in foster care,” DCF’s Kleeblatt said, “and we’ve seen a 25 percent reduction in the number of children placed in congregate care.”
When a child enters state care, he or she is placed in one of three settings – with relatives, in a foster home, or for those with special needs, in group care, he said.
“If we had more foster homes, we could move more children out of congregate care,” Kleeblatt said. “We especially need homes for sibling groups, those with complex needs, and babies.”
While the ideal is to place a child in a home with similar culture, they are grateful to all who are willing to become foster parents.
“Not everyone has the interest or capacity to care for those who are not their own type,” Mysogland said. “But if someone loves kids and understands how to care for them, they can develop a bond regardless and provide a good home.”
One does not have to be married to be a foster or adoptive parent. People who cohabit, are divorced or single are eligible, as are gay couples. Many foster parents have their own biological children but are willing to care for more.
Anyone interested in becoming a foster or adoptive parent must be licensed by DCF. If licensed, the state will provide a monthly stipend to the guardian and health insurance for the child, he said, and if the guardian later adopts the child, financial support continues.
The first step toward licensing is to call 1-888-KID-HERO to sign up to attend a mandatory open house where DCF staff members provide an overview of the agency’s mission, philosophy of foster care, and the licensing process and requirements.
“Please help us take care of our state’s children,” Mysogland said. “We will support you and work with you.”

 Photo © dhairyamistry via Flickr