Police officers urged to adopt foster children

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Metropolitan police officers at the 3rd District station received something extra with their crime alerts and duty assignments during their 7:30 a.m. roll call yesterday — an appeal to adopt a foster child.

“If you want to help us heal a child, consider becoming a foster parent,” said Kamilah Bunn, a resource development specialist for the District’s Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA). “If not, take a flier and tell a friend.”

While local agencies traditionally have looked to faith-based, business and community groups to find parents to adopt foster children, the District has begun urging police officers to take in older children.

Miss Bunn’s job is to find foster and adoptive parents for some of the 2,396 children in the District foster care program.

According to CFSA, teenagers account for more than 60 percent of the minors in foster care.

About 40 percent of the 513,000 children in foster care nationwide were teenagers in 2005, according to the most recent data compiled by the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System.

Teenagers also tend to stay in foster care longer, often until they “age-out” when they turn 21, CFSA spokeswoman Mindy Good said. Last year, 42 percent of teens in District foster care had been in the city’s system for more than 61 months.

“Because of our youth being older, we really try to be creative,” Miss Bunn said. “Many of our children express that they want to be police officers. That’s a nice way to tie it back to reality.”

She said that many officers are former foster youth and can relate to the children and teach them discipline.

Miss Bunn began visiting the Metropolitan Police Department last fall and has recruited three officers for the 30-hour foster-training course to become parents. More officers sign up after every visit, she said.

The number of foster children in the District has declined steadily since 2001, when CFSA became a Cabinet-level agency after having been in federal court receivership for six years, Miss Good said. The percentage of teens in the system remains relatively high.

Officer Elizabeth Jones, 44, said she might want to adopt a child after hearing Miss Bunn’s presentation.

“I have no kids, but I thought I would like to get involved in it. … It touches me so much. It makes me think I could be so good for a child,” said Officer Jones, who has served in the police force for 22 years and plans to retire in a few years.

But she said she’s not ready for a teenager. Other officers voiced the same concern and questioned how much financial and emotional support CFSA would provide them.

The agency gives foster parents $30.91 a day for “regular children over 12 years old.” The amount increases by up to $10 for special-needs and handicapped children.

The federal government provides each state and the District with a $4,000 bonus for every child 9 and older who is adopted that is over the number of adoptions from the prior year.

Louis Henderson, founder and president of the National Association of Former Foster Care Children of America Inc., said police have served as key mentors in his support organization, which is based in Ward 4.

Mr. Henderson, a former foster care teen, coordinated the “first wings” mentoring program from 2001 to 2004, in which 20 police officers served as counselors for teens in independent living groups.

“They [the teens] got to see that these police officers were just like their brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers,” Mr. Henderson said. “They got to see beyond the uniform, beyond the police car.”

Child-services agencies in surrounding jurisdictions have not targeted police departments to recruit foster parents.

However, the foster option has spread by word of mouth through some stations in Montgomery County, where 367 children are in the program, said Jeanne Booth, supervisor of the county’s Foster and Adoptive Services.

Officer Bill Head, a Laytonville resident and parent of three, first learned about becoming a foster parent through a friend at his Gaithersburg police station three years ago. Since then, he has fostered eight younger children.

Miss Booth added that there are many ways adults can help children in foster care. Older children often seek mentors who can visit during a vacation from college or someone to go with to a baseball game.

“One big misconception that people have is that they have to commit for lifetime care when there are many opportunities to help children,” Miss Booth said.

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