For the past 19 years, National Adoption Month has been recognized in November as a time to honor those who have opened their hearts and homes to a child in need and to advocate for all children still seeking a loving, supportive family. Adoption options include domestic adoption of an infant from a mother unable to care for the child, international adoption of a child from another country, or adoption of a child who is in foster care, often referred to as a modern-day orphan.
Giving a child up for adoption can be a loving option for a woman facing an unexpected pregnancy and may be an answer to prayer for couples unable to have a child of their own. In the case of foster care, it may simply be an act of compassion for a child who has experienced abuse, neglect or abandonment. This year National Adoption Month focuses on the adoption of older youth in foster care because “We Never Outgrow the Need for Family.”
According to the FY 2014 Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System, there were 415,000 children and youth in foster care in the U.S. as of September 2014, and 108,000 of these children/youth were waiting to be adopted. Of those waiting to be adopted, about 9 percent are between the ages of 15–18.
In Broward County alone last month, there were 2,357 children in foster care with 350 available for adoption and 130 with no identified placement, according to ChildNet, the community-based care agency. Palm Beach County had 1,219 children in care with 140 available for adoption and 64 without an identified placement.
Every child deserves a forever home and clearly the need is great. It is especially challenging for older children, sibling groups and those with special needs. That’s why Heart Gallery of Broward County was established in 2006 to promote adoption awareness for those who are hardest to place. Since then, they have connected 175 children with adoptive parents and expect to celebrate their 200th adoption on National Adoption Day on November 21st.
The Heart Gallery has nine traveling photography exhibits of foster children who are waiting to be permanently adopted, as well as five mini-exhibits and 10 electronic kiosks with videos of the children. Like an art exhibit, it is displayed in churches, malls, hospitals, libraries and other public places. Vibrant professional photos are coupled with a bio card that describes each child’s personality and interests, and the inner spirits of these unique children are brought to life. Presenting an emotional appeal to the community, the Heart Gallery raises awareness of a major need and draws the community together to adopt, volunteer or donate.
Yvette DeBose, executive director of the Heart Gallery, explained, “We currently have a critical shortage of foster homes, and so many people I speak to don’t know how tragic the situation is in our community.” Yvette has had a heart for adoption all her life since her mother entered foster care at age 6 and was finally adopted when she was 16. With the support of her adoptive family, her mother was able to attend college, which is where she met her husband, who became a pastor. Because of this history, Dubose said she has always volunteered and supported foster care.
“When a child is shuffled from home to home, they don’t know who they are, but when that child feels they belong somewhere and are loved unconditionally, they can flourish,” said Dubose.
When Angela Gilreath, a 4KIDS volunteer, and her husband, Lee Gilreath, a lieutenant with Miami Dade Police and a CCA football coach, decided to become foster parents, Angela said, “We thought God would bring us babies.” But then Lee suggested, “Let’s just pray that God will bring us who he wants.” The next day they were asked to be house parents at a 4KIDS group home for teen girls. With two teen girls of their own, the family moved into the home. “One girl there was up for adoption and we started praying for parents for her right away.” Her name was Shaynequa, but her Grandmother had always called her Precious. Angela admits, “It’s not a popular thing to foster teen girls… They are neglected and left behind, but they just want to be normal.” It took 39 months for the Gilreaths to adopt Precious. “Because she was ill as a child and in and out of foster care, we were told that she would never make it to 8th grade.” Adopted on June 28, 2013 at the age of 15, Precious is now a Junior at Coconut Creek High School where she is thriving, playing varsity volleyball and softball and a constant light to all who know her. “I tell her God can do so much more with her story,” said her forever mother, Angela.
What advice does Angela have for those considering fostering a child? “Do it for the child. So many want to have a child of their own, but you have to do it for the child because the goal is to reunify them with their parents. Often the girls just want to go home, but sometimes that won’t be possible.” Reflecting on their time as foster parents, Angela said, “It was the hardest thing we ever did but the most amazing thing.”
Domestic Infant Adoption
While those in foster care do not choose their situation, but find themselves in a crisis due to abuse, neglect or abandonment, often a woman in a crisis pregnancy situation may not want the state involved, so she can make a voluntary adoption plan that is in the best interest of the child.
According to Jennie Ard, director of adoption services for Florida Baptist Children’s Homes, “We work closely with pregnancy centers who refer birth mothers to us, helping them find resources and develop an adoption plan.” They also have a residential campus for kids in foster care in Miami and provide assistance in adoption through the foster care system connecting Christian families with children placed in their care.
Utilizing grant money from the Choose Life license plate funds, Florida Baptist Children’s Homes is able to help birth mothers in need with services such as finding housing, job placement, and material things they made need during pregnancy at no cost to the families.
While domestic adoptions used to be closed twenty years ago without any information being shared about the child and families. Today birth mothers can be as involved as they want, choose and meet adoptive parents, make a hospital plan for delivery, receive future updates and photos, avoid going to court, and know the child will be cared for and loved while they make goals for the future.
“A benefit for the birth mother is that she may get to see her child grow up in a loving, stable environment. So a woman who concludes I am not able to parent this child and chooses to do the best thing for her baby is making an incredible loving choice,” said Joe Sica, executive director of Adoption by Shepherd Care, that does domestic and international adoptions.
“If a couple is experiencing infertility or wants to complete their family, domestic adoption may be the best choice. However there is some financial and emotional risk for the adoptive parents as the birth mother can change her mind any time up to the moment of consent after birth. This can be difficult to deal with if they have met and the couple had been chosen; they’ve talked and shared their goals and dreams and then the birth mother can’t go through with it. It can be devastating,” said Sica.
In the case of international adoption, a child is not available for adoption until he or she is deemed adoptable, so there is no risk that the mother will change her mind. However, those who choose an international adoption should expect to spend some time in the country they are adopting from. The length of time it takes can vary with China requiring a two-week stay and the average required length of stay in Colombia at 4-6 weeks, for example.
There are many countries open for adoption. Currently, the need for adoption in Colombia is great as there are over 9,000 children legally ready for adoption and awaiting homes. “We have a Colombia program where we’re working with the government to find the best homes for these children to make them a son or daughter,” said Sica.
When it comes to adoption, Sica said, “We continue to handle it the way Jesus works with us. He met us, took us in and adopted us as sons or daughters…whether it’s a newborn like Moses who was drawn out of the Nile River and adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter or Mephibosheth, the handicapped son of Jonathan who David took in and sat at his table.” Sica said, “There are 160 million orphans worldwide and we need to look at them like Jesus would.”
For more information about helping foster children, visit 4kidsofsfl.org or www.heartgalleryofbroward.org. For Florida Baptist Children’s Homes visit www.fbchomes.org and for domestic or international adoptions, contact Adoption by Shepherd Care at adoptabsc.org.
For more articles by Shelly Pond, please visit goodnewsfl.org/author/shelly/