DENVER AND THE WEST
Adoption initiative halves numbers of kids needing families
UPDATED: 03/05/2010 05:54:15 AM MST
The number of Colorado children in foster care awaiting permanent adoption has been cut in half by a partnership between churches and government that places parentless kids in "forever homes."
When the Colorado Springs-based ministry Focus on the Family began spearheading the "Wait No More" adoption initiative in November 2008, the state had 8,000 children in foster care. That number included almost 800 children who were eligible for adoption because their parents had lost parental rights after the state found serious and repetitive neglect and abuse in their families.
In early 2010, only 365 children eligible for adoption remain in foster care, said Sharen Ford, manager of permanency services for the Colorado Department of Human Services.
The success of the initiative has surprised even its many partners — the state, nine counties, New Life Church in Colorado Springs, and dozens of other churches and private agencies. Ford called the results "phenomenal."
Last year alone, more than 1,000 adoptions became final, Ford said. Because children constantly enter and leave the system, the numbers are always in flux, but by the end of 2009, 6,287 were in foster care.
"I'm stunned by the number of kids we've moved off the waiting list," Focus on the Family president and chief executive Jim Daly said. "I was one of those kids — a kid that doesn't have a mom and dad. I was never adopted, but I was very appreciative of the people who came along to mentor me."
Daly said orphan care is a core mission of Christianity.
"If my Bible math is right, God reminds us 47 times to take care of widows and orphans," Daly said. "This country has something like 300,000 churches and 130,000 orphans. The math is pretty simple."
The average age of a waiting child in Colorado is 11 to 12.
"We talk kids"
Daly said Ford and the state Human Services staff impressed him. "They care so much about the kids."
For her part, Ford said she considers it a remarkable public-private relationship.
"We don't talk religion. We don't talk politics," she said. "We talk kids."
Tiffany Beal, now a 20-year-old college senior in Colorado Springs, was in foster care for about three years before her adoption at age 11. She urges people to go out on a limb and adopt — because it's the best thing they can do for a child.
"The most amazing part of being adopted was that no matter what, I always had a home. I had someone to call Mom and Dad," Beal said. "Even at 3, my little brother knew he wasn't home in foster care. He kept asking me, 'When are we going to go home?' "
Prospective parents can hear about the challenges and rewards of adoption and then — if they choose — begin the long adoption process at "Wait No More" events.
Focus held such an event in Colorado Springs in November 2008. At one in October in Loveland, 50 families took the first steps to adopt children. The next is scheduled for September in Denver, where there are currently 116 children available for adoption.
Other participating counties are Adams, Arapahoe, Broomfield, Boulder, Larimer, El Paso, Jefferson and Pueblo.
Ford said the screening for adoptive families is extensive. Social workers attempt to match the needs of children — many of whom have experienced a great deal in their short lives — to families' capabilities. But the process is also inclusive, she says.
Colorado law allows for adoptive families to be two-parent, single-parent, older or otherwise nontraditional, including gay households.
"We try to screen people in," Ford said. "Everybody wants to have a forever home. And there are no such things as perfect families. We need families who are flexible — who have humor."
Room for four more
Bill, whose last name is being withheld to ensure his family's safety, last year adopted four siblings between the ages of 3 and 10. He and his wife already had four children.
His biggest anxiety was the sheer number of unknowns, from the kids' favorite foods to potential emotional triggers from past traumas.
"The most amazing thing is that they've been in our home less than a year, but it feels like it's been a lot longer — in a good way," Bill said, laughing. "From that first weekend, it felt as if it was meant to be. But that first weekend, there was a lot of explaining."
At Focus, the initiative is a national effort, said Kelly Rosati, senior director of the ministry's Sanctity of Life division.
In addition to the two adoption events in Colorado, Focus has held such meet-ups in St. Louis, Los Angeles and Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Of those attending, 830 families initiated the adoption process at the events. About 750 different churches have been involved.
"We are not giving up or stopping until every waiting child in Colorado has the family it deserves," Rosati said.
Electa Draper: 303-954-1276 firstname.lastname@example.org
Find out more
Don't want to wait until the next adoption event? Visiticareaboutorphans.orgto learn about adopting kids from foster care.