Friday, September 21, 2007

Our Future Needs Our Help


Groups struggle to match black children, black families

Private adoption agencies haven't gained traction among black Americans

Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle

For information, call Catholic Charities at 713-874-6593 or 713-874-6579.

Firldeal Grimes wanted the best for her unborn baby when she turned to Catholic Charities four months ago to find a family looking to adopt.

The problem is Grimes is looking specifically for a black family for her child, something she couldn't do if she arranged her adoption though the state.

"I don't want (her) to grow up in a household that doesn't know what they've been through, or how to teach ... about slavery days, or about their background," said Grimes, 26.

But Grimes, who is due next month, is starting to get worried. Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston has yet to find a family willing to adopt her baby. Eight other black babies at the agency also are still waiting.

Experts say the situation isn't surprising, because black families are reluctant, for various reasons, to adopt children from private agencies.

Private adoption agencies never have gained traction in the black community. For one thing, experts say, private adoptions can be costly, requiring thousands in fees. And the idea of paying money for a human being is especially seen as taboo in black-American culture.

While adoptions through the public child welfare system also are problematic, experts say black families are far more likely to turn to those agencies that place children who have been removed from abusive or neglectful homes by the state's Child Protective Services.

There, adoptions are less costly and in most cases include a monthly stipend to help with the child's expenses.

Different motivations

Robert Geen, vice president for public policy at Child Trends, a research center for social service issues, said about 70 percent of the families who adopt black foster children are themselves black, and often times are related to the child.

At the same time, Geen said, the motivation for those who adopt from foster care isn't normally the same as those who adopt infants from private agencies.

"People looking to adopt babies are looking to start a family, or expand their family if they can't have any more children," he said. "People who seek to adopt from foster care are often interested in helping the community and saving a child."

Catholic Charities, like several other agencies in the area, arranges two types of adoptions — private infant adoptions and adoptions involving CPS children.

By law, in cases involving CPS children, the birth mother cannot stipulate the adoptive family's race. But in private adoptions, the women are allowed to screen prospective families and specify who they want to raise their child. Many, like Grimes, prefer same-race adoptions.

Toni Oliver, who runs an agency in Atlanta that specializes in black adoptions, said she has encountered no shortage of black families wanting to adopt infants.

Her agency, Roots Inc., arranges adoptions through the public child welfare system where there is little cost but where infants are rare.

Recently, she said, she was contacted by a private agency that had available children and wanted to know if any of the families on her waiting list would be interested. She asked about the fee and was told it was $10,000.

"That fee is going to be a barrier," said Oliver, who also co-chairs the family preservation task force for the National Association of Black Social Workers.

Specter of slavery

And it isn't just a matter of affordability, say Oliver and others. Some blacks believe paying money to adopt a child is too reminiscent of slave auctions. And they don't understand why they have to pay to get a baby.

Officials at private agencies say they have to charge fees to cover their costs, including legal services, counseling sessions and the background checks and home assessments that are required in determining if a prospective family is suitable. The fees also cover the post-adoption supervision and, in some cases, the birth mom's care and medical costs.

At Catholic Charities, because of the demand, the fee is halved for black families, who pay from $6,000 to $12,000, depending on their income. And even that cost can be largely offset by a tax break from the federal government.

DePelchin Children's Center also subsidizes the fee for blacks.

DeJuana Jernigan, DePelchin's adoption and post-adoption program coordinator, said the fee for blacks is lowered from 15 percent of the family's income to 12 percent.

"Historically," Jernigan said, "adoption hasn't been very widespread in the African-American community. Most of the adoptions have been informal, involving family members."

But Jernigan said she believes that may be changing. And U.S. District Judge Vanessa Gilmore is a notable case in point.

Contacting community

Gilmore, who is black, adopted a baby through DePelchin six years ago. At the time, she said she was given little hope of ever finding a black baby because so few were ever placed for private adoption.

But now, she said, many in her circle of black friends, mostly well-educated professionals, have adopted children. And she believes many more are interested.

"All women have the same problems," she said. "You go to college, you wake up at 35 and you say, 'Oops, I forgot to have a baby,' or, 'I thought I could conceive.' Everybody has the same issues. It's not race-specific."

Gilmore believes many black families who are interested in adoption may not be aware that Catholic Charities has babies available for adoption, she said.

But Carol Shultse, director of Catholic Charities' infant adoption program, said her agency, which normally does not have this many requests for black families, has been in contact with local black churches and organizations seeking parents.

Nelda Lewis, associate professor of social work at Texas Southern University, said she believes that private adoption agencies don't know how to effectively engage the black community. And many in the community may be fearful of an agency they know so little about.

"There are black families looking to adopt," Lewis said. "The agency has to do something different. They have to take a different approach."

Meanwhile, Grimes continues to wait, and hope. So far, she has looked at three applicants. She's ruled out two. The third family, she said, was perfect, even shared her Louisiana roots, but decided against the adoption.

Now she frets that if she can't find an acceptable family soon, her child will end up in foster care.

"That's something I really didn't want," she said. "I want her to go straight to a family as if they had her."

I am very pro-adoption and believe we have a responsibility to help the children in our community. We can't expect for others to take care of them, and we definitely shouldn't leave them to be raised in ' The System'.

If you have been thinking about adoption, why not contact this agency? There's a child out there just waiting for you.

No comments: