With this post we are beginning a series of articles about racial inequalities in the Child Welfare system. Once we illuminate the issues, we will be convening a conference to address those weaknesses.

Unfortunately too many children are abused or neglected by their biological parents. When that occurs, we expect that the child welfare system will remove these children from harm and place them into safe and loving foster homes. While some children are placed with loving foster parents, given the broken state of many of America’s child welfare systems, other children are simply transferred from one harmful situation to another.

This should be alarming for anyone, but considering that African-American children make up a greater percentage of children in foster care, the effects of a broken child welfare system impacts the African-American community even more severely.

Also, child welfare services remove black children from their parent’s homes at twice the rate of white children. But should all of these children be taken from their biological families in the first place? And does poverty play a role?

Statistics on African-American Children in Foster Care
• In 2012, about 640,000 children spent time in U.S. foster care
• In 2012, more than half of children entering U.S. foster care were young people of color
• 26% of children in U.S. foster care are African-American, double the percentage of African-American children in the U.S. population

Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children's Bureau, “Trends in Foster Care and Adoption (FFY 2002‐FFY 2012)”

For the first time in well over a decade, the National Adoption Center has received a federal contract for an Intensive Child Specific Recruitment Project. Partnering with the State of New Jersey, the project has four objectives:

• To identify youth in the New Jersey child welfare system waiting the longest for an adoptive home and develop an understanding of the issues that have delayed permanency
• To reduce the amount of time that children wait for an adoptive placement
• To reduce the number of older adolescents who emancipate from care without an adoptive family
• To create an integrated model of successful intensive recruitment that has been rigorously evaluated

This project, if successful, will use a team approach and create a replicable model to secure permanent families and supports for our longest waiting children, in New Jersey and around the country.

My brother-in-law has terminal cancer and is living five minutes from his home in a reportedly beautiful and gracious hospice center. Nevertheless, he fights for the chance to go home, preferably not to die, but rather to live.

He is a trooper and a man of conviction. While cancer has overtaken his body, he is oh-so-alive in his mind. And, in his mind, he will continue that state as long as humanly possible. Why, you ask? I had that same question.

I can’t help but credit that, at least partially, to the love of his own brothers and sisters, my sister, and his mom and stepdad. For the past several months, my sister and his mom have tag-teamed 12-hour vigils—never leaving his side. His brother and sisters have also stayed overnight to help with shifting his position in bed, replacing ice packs, or whatever was needed.

He was diagnosed seven months ago. Young and (we thought) healthy and strong, we didn’t think his body would be ravaged so quickly. While visiting my family last summer, I remember watching his mom (who battled lung cancer and had surgery soon after his diagnosis) lovingly make his favorite meals—while she still could, and he could still enjoy them—even though she was tired and it must have been hard. When we offered to help, she would have none of it. Happy to recreate family memories through meals and give my sister a well-needed break, there was seemingly nothing she would not do for her son.

I can’t help but wonder, without the love of family, where he would be. My talk with him by phone a couple of weeks ago spoke volumes with the points he didn’t mention. Having been a hospice volunteer myself, I asked him if he was ready (to go). He vehemently said, “No! No! I am most definitely not ready to go.” He is fighting to extend his life as long as possible to be with those he loves and who love him.

He is someone who is all about family. And, clearly, his family is all about him.

As of Christmas, there is no cap on meds to make him feel comfortable. He is now at the point that he pushes a button to receive higher and higher doses of pain medication about every 10-15 minutes. But the love of this son for his wife, his mom and dad, and the rest of his family is stalwart. What is obvious: he wants to stay—for them! Giving love back to them as long as he can for the gifts of love he receives now and has his entire life.

Death – transitioning – is best done in love, with one’s loved ones. It is not something one associates with adoption. But, in perspective, it has a role.

I cannot help but think about the thousands of children and teens waiting to be adopted. If they age out of the system, while they could certainly marry and have their own families, were they faced with such a situation, parental love—perhaps in the form of meals made from scratch and heart or 12 hour vigils and bedpan duty—would be missing.

Come to think of it, life is best done in love, with one’s loved ones, too. It is the small moments of being together—in fun times or bittersweet moments—that comprise the not-thought-of parts of reasons to adopt and build a family through love.

Our (adopted) daughter said she talked with her uncle recently and told him how happy she is to know him, and thanked him for the sparkle and the genuine love and laughter he brought to our family. She recounted how blessed she felt that we shared our lives. In saying good-bye, she wanted him to know the fabric of family certainly extends beyond his nuclear one.

But having a nuclear one is important.

Adoption, in its purpose and greatness, does change lives. I can’t help but wonder if relating this would get others to think about the small, subtle and perhaps unspoken and unimagined ways that adoption—the building of family—for life and even for death—is the gift of a lifetime/ultimate gift.

As we begin a new year, we encourage you to take a few minutes to learn a little bit about your Congressional leaders and their stance on adoption. Now is a great opportunity to begin building a relationship with your two Senate offices and your district Representative. Each office has Congressional staff who handle domestic adoption and child welfare or foster care issues. Sometime this month, make time to do a five-minute phone call (to your 2 Senators and 1 Representative) to find out who that staff person is and introduce yourself. You are a valuable resource to them – don’t miss the opportunity to make sure they know who you are! Call their office, introduce yourself as a constituent and ask for the staff that handles these issues. To find contact telephone numbers for your U.S. Senators click here. To find contact information for your U.S. Representatives click here.

The two primary Committees with jurisdiction over foster care/child welfare issues include the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee, Human Resources Subcommittee. Senate Finance Committee Chairmanship will be led by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and the Ranking Member will be Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR). To find a full list of Senate Finance Committee members click here. In the House, the full Ways and Means Committee will be chaired by Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Representative Sander Levin (D-MI) will remain as Ranking Member. The new Human Resources Subcommittee Chairman will be Representative Charles Boustany (R-LA) and Representative Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) is expected to continue as the Ranking Member. To find a full list of House Ways and Means Committee members click here.

Remember…your voice counts!

The sometimes volatile discourse surrounding the right of or appropriateness of gays and/or lesbian adults to adopt children yearning for permanence and forever families triggers, for me, memories of my “family secret”…a secret hidden at great emotional cost to me, my brothers and my mother. This secret undermined our financial security, sense of personal safety and was a crippling embarrassment. Our father’s alcoholism was, then, seen a disgrace rather than diagnosed as disease. Given the choice I’d take gay any day!

Were my parents loving and devoted? Yes…still no family is without difficulties and uniqueness. Adults who embody integrity, love, acceptance, stability, commitment, honesty, openness and candor are the bedrock of a civil society. Individuals embracing some or all of these attributes make superb parents and role models. Sexual preference may be descriptive but it is not defining of sound parenting.

Prejudice and intolerance are THE purgative anvils of a dysfunctional society,. These two often level irreparable harm to children and putrefy our humanity.

My own family is blessed with one adopted son among our three children. He is mixed racially – the rest of us are not. At age 3 he was often asked by children, “How come you don’t look anything like your mom?” His favorite answer, “Different strokes for different folks.” Those who are accepting count to him. Unaccepting people don’ t count.

Parental sexuality doesn’t count to children. Caring, courageous, loving parents are the wind beneath their children’s wings. This very wind gusts-away questions of sexual preference.

contributed by Kelly Wolfington, NAC Board Member

On September 29, President Obama signed the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act. The law will protect children from sex trafficking, enhance the Adoption Incentive program, enable children in care to participate in normal childhood activities and fund new post-adoption and post-guardianship supports. The bill’s movement through Congress was not easy, but well worth the wait. The National Adoption Center is particularly pleased that the new law prevents states from using the Another Planned Permanent Living Arrangement (APPLA) as a case goal for children under 16. These children must now have a case goal of return home, adoption, guardianship or relative placement. Youth 16 and up may still have an APPLA goal but states must document ongoing efforts to achieve permanency and the rational for why other permanency options are not in the youth’s best interests. The National Adoption Center is grateful for the efforts of congressional leaders and child welfare advocates who worked so diligently to ensure passage of the bill.

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Every year, adoptive parents welcome tens of thousands of children and teenagers into supportive and loving families.
These mothers and fathers provide their sons and daughters with the security and stability of a safe environment and the opportunity to learn, grow, and achieve their full potential. During National Adoption Month, we honor those who have opened their hearts and their homes, and we recommit to supporting all children still in need of a place to call their own.

Over the past decade, more than 500,000 children have been adopted. However, there are still too many children waiting to be part of an adoptive family. This month -- on the Saturday before Thanksgiving -- we will observe the 15th annual National Adoption Day, a nationwide celebration that brings together policymakers, practitioners, and advocates to finalize thousands of adoptions and to raise awareness of those still in need of permanent homes.
To help ensure there is a permanent home for every child, my Administration is investing in programs to reduce the amount of time children in foster care wait for adoption and to educate adoptive families about the diverse needs of their children, helping ensure stability and permanency. We are equipping State and local adoption organizations with tools to provide quality mental health services to children who need them, and -- because we know the importance of sibling relationships -- we are encouraging efforts to keep brothers and sisters together. Additionally, last year I was proud to permanently extend the Adoption Tax Credit to provide relief to adoptive families. By supporting policies that remove barriers to adoption, we give hope to children across America. For all those who yearn for the comfort of family, we must continue our work to increase the opportunities for adoption and make sure all capable and loving caregivers have the ability to bring a child into their life, regardless of their race, religion, sexual orientation, or marital status.

Throughout November, we recognize the thousands of parents and kids who have expanded their families to welcome a new child or sibling, as well as the professionals who offer guidance, resources, and counseling every day. Let us reaffirm our commitment to provide all children with every chance to reach their dreams and realize their highest aspirations.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim November 2014 as National Adoption Month. I encourage all Americans to observe this month by answering the call to find a permanent and caring family for every child in need, and by supporting the families who care for them.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this thirty-first day of October, in the year of our Lord two thousand fourteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-ninth.

H.R. 4980 – The Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act just passed the Senate by unanimous consent in the last hours before adjournment. The bill is to reauthorize the federal Adoption Incentives Program, renew the last year of funding for the Family Connections Grants and strengthen child welfare’s response to foster youth who fall victim to domestic sex trafficking. The National Adoption Center, along with many child welfare colleagues, has been tirelessly advocating for better investments into post-adoption services and increased efforts to secure permanent families for older youth in foster care. The bill will now be sent to the President for signature to become law.

The following provisions are related to adoption:
• The bill reauthorizes the Adoption Incentives Program for 3 years through FY2016 (to align with the reauthorization date of the Promoting Safe and Stable Families Program (PSSF)).
• The bill phases-in a move to incentives based on rate increases, provides incentives for guardianships for the first time, as well as provides a higher incentive for older youth adoptions and guardianships.
• The bill extends funding for the Family Connections Grants for one year.
• The bill strengthens the 2008 Fostering Connections Act provision requiring states to track and reinvest savings as a result of the federal Title IV-E Adoption Assistance de-link.
• The bill requires HHS to assist states with calculating these savings and requires annual reporting. Additionally, the bill requires that not less than 30 percent of these savings be spent on post-adoption/post-guardianship services, and services to sustain permanent outcomes (of which 20 percent is designated for post-adoption and post-guardianship services).
• The bill requires states to track data on disrupted and dissolved adoptions and guardianships.
• The bill eliminates “APPLA” – Another Planned Permanent Living Arrangement – as a permanency goal for youth under age 16.
• The bill encourages the placement of children in foster care with siblings by adding clarifying language that all parents of siblings be notified within 30 days after the removal.

My name is Anna Coleman and I am currently a graduate student at Eastern University. As a grad student finding the time to do anything other than school work can be a pretty difficult task. Therefore during my summer breaks I try and take advantage of my new-found free time. Instead of spending the summer on a beach like I had planned to do, I was required to spend my summer elsewhere. Despite the fact that I couldn’t spend my summer as I had hoped, I found this "something else" to be much more rewarding. For the past six weeks I’ve been working as a program intern for the National Adoption Center.  Although my time here has been brief, I have found this organization to be instrumental in changing the lives of others.

Last week I had the opportunity to attend a Wednesday’s Child taping of a sibling group of three. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Wednesday’s Child, it features children who are waiting to be adopted by loving families. The two tapings that I attended were done by NBC10 and KYW Newsradio. Each taping serves the same purpose: to create a feature profiling each child or sibling group. NBC10 features children with a television segment and KYW Newsradio features children with a radio interview segment. The first taping was for KYW Newsradio. When the kids arrived they seemed pretty nervous, but who can blame them? As a child, if I walked into a room full of adult strangers, I’d be nervous too. But Larry Kane, being the professional he is got the children to open up and talk about what they like to do for fun and what family means to them.

Things seemed too lighten up when we arrived at Arnold’s Fun Center to do the taping for NBC10. Although they seemed shy at first, they really opened up while at the Fun Center. You could not keep these three from smiling. They rode go karts, played some arcade games, and they even had enough time to get a game of laser tag in. All three kids really seemed to enjoy themselves. I know they say that a picture is worth a thousand words but actually being in the moment is worth so much more. These kids were taped in the moment being exactly who they are, kids! No masks, no facades, just their genuine selves. Which at the end of the day, what more could you ask for? Three fun loving kids looking for a forever family, and if anyone deserves it, it’s them.

The start of a new fiscal year brings new opportunities to identify forever families for our most vulnerable children, thanks to the National Adoption Center. We’ve been looking into the concept of Extreme Recruitment®, a new initiative which began in St. Louis with the Foster & Adoptive Care Coalition. Extreme Recruitment® finds permanent homes for children by creating a dynamic team that works together, with a strong sense of urgency. It’s a race to find permanency using 12-20 weeks of intensive recruitment efforts and preparation and represents a significant shift in thinking from traditional practice. We believe Extreme Recruitment® has the potential to significantly decrease the number of children and youth seeking permanent, loving homes.  We will keep you looped-in as we continue to discover new ways to help children in foster care find their forever families.