Howard seeks families to adopt city youngsters Goal to find homes for children in foster care

July 19, 1998|By Jill Hudson Neal | Jill Hudson Neal,SUN STAFF

The Howard County Department of Social Services is seeking to recruit more African-American families to adopt children from Baltimore.

This week, social services officials will publicize Project Bridge, an innovative program that would pair families in the Howard suburbs with older children or sibling groups in Baltimore's foster care system.

The three-year project will use $600,000 in federal grant money to match children from Baltimore -- the majority of whom are African-American -- with middle-class, African-American families in Howard, one of 40 communities around the country running this kind of program.

The funds will go toward hiring social workers who will recruit families in Howard or living within five miles of its border.

Officials estimate that more than 600 children in Baltimore are in foster care and are legally free to be adopted.

The agencies hope to place 45 sibling groups in approved adoptive homes. Eight families in Baltimore and Baltimore County have agreed to adopt children from Baltimore.

"Though we would like to match these children with other black families, it's not a requirement that they be" black, said Vivian Walden, project manager for Project Bridge. "We're looking for people who will open their homes and arms to them and give them love. Anyone willing to open their hearts to children in need will be seriously considered.

"What we're really interested in doing is finding stable homes for these children," Walden said. "Every child wants to come home to a family, to have a sense of permanency. This is especially true for these kids."

Though the head of the household must be age 21 or older, those who are willing to adopt don't have to be married, wealthy or own their own homes, Walden said.

Howard's social services team began looking for prospective families in June, eight months after funds for Project Bridge were granted.

Walden acknowledges that recruiting families to adopt the children in question will be a challenge.

"It's really going to be a matter of going out and finding these families," she said. "We're going to have to be aggressive and creative about recruiting them."

One of the most promising recruiting options, Walden said, is area churches.

"Churches have always played an integral role in the lives of black people and their children," she said. "For African-Americans, the church has always been a place to go to for help."

But finding families -- even African-American families -- willing to adopt older children or sibling groups will be difficult, said Carolyn Johnson, executive director of the National Adoption Center in Philadelphia, a nonprofit agency that specializes in placing minority and special-needs children.

"There's a decreased demand for these children in our society," Johnson said. "You have to constantly let the public know that they're available. A large portion of the population thinks adoption, and they think babies."

According to figures released by the National Adoption Center, about 60 percent of the country's 100,000 foster children eligible for adoption are minorities, mostly African-American. In large cities, as many as 90 percent of children waiting to be adopted are black.

Families that adopt children who are older or who need to be placed with siblings "do not like to be called special," Johnson said. "They do have an extra measure of patience and willingness to wait for some return from the children.

Pub Date: 7/19/98

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