- The Washington Times - Monday, May 9, 2011

After years of bad press, the nation’s foster care system is finally generating numbers worth raving about: Adoptions are at a record high, fewer children are waiting for permanent families and their average wait time has shrunk by a year.

Child-welfare officials are eager to keep this momentum going — plus make headway in other difficult areas, such as finding permanent homes for “older” children and teens.

To that end, adoption and child-welfare leaders are gathering today at a Capitol Hill meeting sponsored by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.

“The systems put in place at the federal and state levels are actually working: More and more kids are getting homes from foster care, and we’re having some real success,” said Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Institute and author of “Adoption Nation.” The Donaldson Institute is a key organizer of the Capitol Hill meeting.

“Now we have to take the next steps and help those families succeed,” he said, citing post-adoption services as an essential part of this new paradigm. No one wants to see more cases like last year’s Tennessee woman sending her 7-year-old adopted son back to Russia on a plane, he said.

America’s foster care system has long attracted negative headlines, with news of abused, neglected and abandoned children getting “lost in the system” or “languishing” for years without a permanent home.

But in 2009, many of the core measurements improved dramatically, according to a 2011 report by Child Trends officials Marci McCoy-Roth, Kerry DeVooght, Karin Malm and Sharon Vandivere.

In a report for fosteringconnections .org, a clearinghouse for data on foster care and adoption, the Child Trends researchers found that in 2009:

• Adoptions from foster care reached a record high of 57,000, up from 37,000 in 1998.

• The number of children waiting for adoption fell to a record low of 115,000, down from 135,000 in 2006.

• The average wait to be adopted fell to a record low 35 months, down from 48 months in 1998.

• The likelihood a waiting child would be adopted in a year rose to 45 percent, up from an average 39 percent over the previous decade.

• The average time to free an abused or neglected child for adoption (i.e., terminate parental rights) fell to 14 months, down from 17 months in 1998.

Child-welfare specialists credit these improvements to the 1997 Adoption and Safe Families Act, which set deadlines for action and created cash incentives for states that increased their adoptions of foster children.

Last fall, the Department of Health and Human Services issued $39 million in adoption incentives to 38 states, including Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia.

The 2008 Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act, the adoption tax credit, advertising campaigns, websites with profiles of waiting children, and state programs to recruit foster parents and relatives also turned trends around.

“It was a convergence of factors,” said Linda Spears, vice president of policy and public affairs with the Child Welfare League of America.

However, there are areas where numbers didn’t improve: “Older” children — age 9 and above — are still overrepresented in the “waiting” children group, and the number of children “aging out” of foster case without a permanent family has grown to almost 29,500.

Recruiting foster parents and relatives is a priority for organizations, including the “Wait No More” program at Focus on the Family.

Since 2008, “Wait No More” has used “the voice and outreach of Focus on the Family” to encourage families to think about adopting foster children, said Kelly Rosati, a communications official with the massive faith-based organization.

In recent months, 6,000 people have attended nine adoption events, and 1,500 have decided to pursue the adoption process, said Mrs. Rosati, an adoptive mother herself.

“Wait No More,” she added, connects hundreds of churches with state partners, with the aim of finding families for sibling groups, older children and those with special needs.

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