- The Washington Times - Friday, December 5, 2003

On Tuesday in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, President Bush signed the Adoption Promotion Act into law. He was surrounded by a group of smiling kids. They were all happy because they were adopted and have found good homes. “When parents share their homes and all they have with a child, the child they adopt and love as their own, all their lives are transformed forever,” the president said. As he made clear, America needs to do a better job promoting adoption.

There is certainly a need to get the bureaucratic adoption process working better. In 1975, there were 175,000 adoptions. The success rate has since dropped. Through the 1990s, approximately 120,000 kids were adopted in America annually. About 10,000 of these were from overseas. Only half of the total number of children were unrelated to their adoptive parents. This is good news for a lot of kids, but too many are still stuck in the system.

There are more than half a million children in foster care in this country. According to the National Adoption Clearinghouse, the percentage of adoptive placements by public agencies has fallen to only 15 percent to 20 percent of all adoptions. Private non-profits did most of the rest of the work. In 1975, public agencies matched children with parents almost 40 percent of the time. Given the number of young ones in government-managed foster care, it is obvious that public servants are not fulfilling their role in this area.

A main objective of the adoption law is to get more children out of foster care and into their own permanent families. To achieve this goal, the federal government will offer incentives to states that increase adoption rates from their foster-care networks. The new law, which adds to existing pro-adoption measures, offers additional incentives to adopt older children, who often have a harder time finding adoptive parents than babies and toddlers. More incentives are offered for helping children with handicaps and special needs.

In his remarks, Mr. Bush widened the scope of the adoption issue. “Our society is building a culture that values every life,” he said. This comes from the same man who one month ago signed the partial-birth abortion ban, which is the first restriction on abortion since Roe vs. Wade three decades ago. The point here is that one of the many redeeming values of adoption is that it offers an alternative to abortion that can save the lives of millions of children.

Mr. Bush’s idea of compassionate conservatism has received some snickers. But the Adoption Promotion law he signed this week puts that principle into action. Compassionate conservatism does involve getting the government to help where it can, especially in areas where it already is involved anyway. Public services can be about more than fixing potholes. Some programs can help little kids find new homes and build new lives.

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