- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 4, 2003

It is not very often we can celebrate a federal policy that really works, but we have just such an opportunity this week. On Tuesday, immediately following the close of another National Adoption Month in November, President Bush signed the Adoption Promotion Act (APA) with adoptive families who exemplify the act’s policy goals at his side.

The APA reauthorizes the Adoption Incentive Program, which substantially improved the performance of the child-welfare system and led to dramatic increases in adoptions out of foster care over the last five years. Enacted in 1997 as part of the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA), the program provides states with incentive payments for each child adopted above the baseline.

Since the Adoption Incentives’ enactment, adoptions out of foster care rose from 31,000 in 1997 to 51,000 in 2002. From 1998 to 2002, an average of more than 13,000 additional children per year — more than 65,000 additional children in all — were adopted than would have been otherwise. Over the same five-year period, more than 235,000 foster children were adopted, about the same number as were adopted in the previous 10.

The APA also establishes additional incentive payments for adoptions of children age 9 and older, who now make up half the children in foster care. By age 9, a foster child’s likelihood of continuing in care exceeds the likelihood of being adopted. Increased incentive payments for adoptions of older children will enable many more of them to enjoy the loving, permanent families all children deserve.

One family at the signing is headed by a single Caucasian man, Jim Morris, who adopted eight older African-American, Hispanic and mixed-race boys, the youngest at age 9, and now is marrying the kind and brave Araceli Zarate. Another family, the Chris and Diana Martins, added to their three biological children four mixed-race children, who were ages 6, 8, 10 and 11 when they were adopted.

On National Adoption Day, more than 3,100 adoptions were finalized out of foster care, including two by Gloria and Samuel Baker, a 50-something African-American couple I met at Queens, N. Y. family court. The Bakers’ four biological children are grown, but the couple is not done parenting yet. They have now foster-parented 15 and adopted four. Jim Morris and Araceli Zarate, the Martins and theBakers are typical of the many tens of thousands of Americans who are responding to the call of compassion to adopt, love and parent the country’s waiting foster children.

It is a shame that the media focus much more on aberrant cases such as the Jackson family in New Jersey than on the everyday adoption success stories of families like these. As horrific as the Jackson case is, it is important to put it in context. In 2000, there were 2.1 million adopted children living with their parents in 1.7 million households. In a population that size, there is bound to be some abuse, just as occurs in some biological families’ households.

APA and ASFA were major steps in the right direction, but there is a long way to go. At the end of fiscal year 2002, 532,698 children remained in foster care — 116,653 of them waiting to be adopted. Other measures to promote adoption should include: increased efforts to recruit and prepare parents to adopt foster children; performance-based measures to hold family courts accountable for allowing children to be adopted at younger ages; and increased flexibility for states to direct their federal welfare dollars toward the particular needs of their foster care populations.

Finding good families for these deserving children is a solvable problem. If the child-welfare system will continue to promote adoption, American families have enough heart to provide loving, permanent homes for them. As adoptioncaucus leader Sen. Mary Landrieu puts it, “There are no unwanted children, only unfound families.” There are 55 million married-couple U.S. households; that’s 471 married couples for each foster child waiting to be adopted. Single-parent adoptions are part of the solution, too, especially for older children. Faith-based communities also offer much promise for adoptive parent recruitment. There are three places of worship for each child waiting to be adopted, and every major faith admonishes its believers to care for orphans.

Mr. Bush captured the urgency of America’s obligation to foster children when he said at the APA signing, “In every young life, there is a great need to belong.” Promoting adoption is not just another public policy for America’s foster children. It is the difference between having and not having their own families, where they belong, and can receive and give love.

Thomas Atwood is president and CEO of National Council For Adoption.

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