Sunday, November 18, 2001

DALLAS (AP) Brian Michael grew up too fast, caring for his younger brothers while their single mother carted them in and out of homeless shelters. He came into Karen Hopper’s foster care a street smart and angry 6-year-old.
But it was there he became a child again.
Yesterday, Miss Hopper legally adopted Brian, along with his brothers Hunter, 3, and Rusty, 1.
“We’ve come to be a family,” Brian Michael Hopper said, his new name written on a tag stuck to his shirt.
For thousands of abused children and orphans, yesterday was the realization of a dream: to be part of a loving family.
Lawyers and judges in 16 cities across the nation volunteered their time to finalize more than 1,500 adoptions on the second annual National Adoption Day.
In Dallas, 56 children strutted proudly with their new moms and dads through Henry Wade Juvenile Center.
“They’ll remember this the rest of their lives because this is really a second birth to them,” said Judge Hal Gaither, a volunteer.
The event is the brainchild of a Los Angeles group, the Alliance for Children’s Rights, which aims to move adoptions through Los Angeles County’s backlogged process.
About 600,000 children are in foster care nationwide, with about 127,000 eligible for adoption, according to the group.
Since 1984, the number of children in foster care has increased. Nearly 50 percent never finish high school, and nearly one-third will spend time in jail, according to the group. About one-sixth of foster children are removed from their homes because of abuse.
Children who are minorities, older, or have special needs or siblings have a harder time getting adopted.
Texas reimburses parents for adopting these children. Other adoptive parents can apply for tax credits to help cover adoption costs, usually totaling $600.
Los Angeles County was expected to complete 450 adoptions yesterday, none too soon in a county where at least 3,500 children remain orphans because of a processing backlog.
The children are eligible for adoption and new parents are lined up to take them, “but children remain in foster care because the county bureaucracy simply can’t get its act together to do the paperwork,” said Andrew Bridge, executive director for the alliance.
Even after legal ties have been cut with abusive parents, these foster children often face a life of uncertainty that includes repeated trips to the courthouse, constant fear of changing homes and the emptiness of not knowing what their last names will be next year.
It took nine years for Alma Walker to adopt one of her daughters in Los Angeles County, but the process took only a year for the two toddler girls she adopted yesterday.
“It’s the quickest adoption that I’ve gone through,” said the 62-year-old, who has adopted three and sheltered 100 foster children in the last 19 years. “It’s a blessing that they have stepped in to help foster parents out and make these adoptions go faster.”

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