Foster-care adoptions increase by 23% in Md.

City rate up by 40%

officials optimistic

November 02, 2001|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF

Adoptions from foster care have risen sharply in Maryland over the past year, leaving state officials hopeful that they can find even more homes for children without them.

The biggest increase was in Baltimore, where 514 children were adopted from the foster-care system between July 2000 and July 2001 - 40 percent more than the year before, state officials said yesterday. Over the past five years, the number adopted in Baltimore has more than tripled.

The increases have been spurred by the federal Adoption and Safe Families Act, officials said, which in 1997 imposed new time limits for moving children into permanent homes and provided incentive payments for states that increased adoptions.

Throughout Maryland, there were 852 adoptions from foster care, up 23 percent over the year before. In the two years before that, adoptions in the state rose slightly.

Officials of the Maryland Department of Human Resources will announce the numbers at a news conference this morning, where they also will honor families who have adopted foster children.

"We've just done major work on creating a team that is focused on children," said Stephanie Johnson Pettaway, adoptions manager for DHR.

While praising the increase in adoptions, an advocate for children in foster care pointed out that more work needs to be done - noting state figures that showed 1,286 children legally free to be adopted as of June.

Need remains

"There are still very, very large numbers of kids who need to be adopted," said James P. McComb, executive director of the Maryland Association of Resources for Families and Youth. "They have committed to something they should have committed to a long time ago. They really need to keep this going."

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced in September that nearly 50,000 children were adopted across the country last year, nearly double the 28,000 adoptions finalized in 1996.

"The states are beginning to figure out ways to both recruit adoptive parents and speed up the process," said Terry Lewis, acting associate commissioner of the Children's Bureau, the section of HHS that handles adoption.

Maryland's increases are expected to bring more federal money for adoption services - from $4,000 to $6,000 for every child adopted over the previous year's number.

Pettaway attributes the rise in adoptions largely to better recruitment of potential parents - through churches, festivals and other places families are likely to congregate. They also have been having more parties at which interested parents can meet children available for adoption.

"A lot of families are second-time-around families, people who've parented before and realize they can do it," she said.

Adopt two, hope for more

Edward and Shirlee Imes of Hagerstown, both 46, make up such a couple. After raising three biological children, they have adopted two boys from foster care this year and are hoping to adopt several more of the five foster children living with them.

It hasn't been easy. One of their new sons, Nathaniel, couldn't walk or talk when he came to live with them at 19 months old. Now nearly 4, he still has developmental problems.

But Shirlee Imes, who retired from her job at a grocery store last year, said she has no regrets about the children she has taken on.

"Sometimes I have to remind myself that this is what I've chosen to do, when I can't keep up with the laundry and the housework," she said. "It's worth it, though."

While adoptions from foster care have been on the rise, Maryland children also have been spending a longer time in foster care - a median of 32 months between July1999 and July 2000, the last period for which numbers were available, compared with 26 months for the previous year.

Many stay with kin

As a rule, Baltimore's foster children have been particularly hard to place. They are generally older than children in other systems and have problems that can come from bouncing from home to home.

Many children on the foster-care rolls in Baltimore are being taken care of permanently by relatives, Pettaway said, adding that those relatives are sometimes reluctant to formalize the relationship with adoption.

"We are working hard to get the message through to families that it's best for the child to be with family, that the child needs stability. And sometimes stability only comes with adoption or guardianship," Pettaway said.

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