At any given time there are about 800 children up for adoption in Florida. Those are kids whose parents have had their parental rights terminated by a judge. And it’s those kids, that the state has a hard time trying to place. The Department of Children and Families and other groups are working hard to find them forever homes.
It’s a good day for 15-year-old Savannah Walker.
“I’m really excited, I’m relieved it’s over, cause it’s a really long process, but I’m really excited about the adoption.”
She’s been living with her grandmother most of her life. In April of this year, she went to live with longtime family friend Linda Bedell, who ultimately decided to adopt Savannah after her grandmother died.
“It’s great to do this so that maybe other people will do this for kids who need a home. There are a lot of kids out there who need homes and a lot of families who would be great for them," Bedell said.
Savannah and Linda are now a family unit. They were two of many families seeking permanent adoptions before a Leon County Court Judge. November is National Adoption Month, and there are about 750 more Savannah’s still in Florida’s foster care system, all hoping for a similarly happy ending.
The Department of Children and Families’ website features stories from children around the state like Sammy, who you just heard from.
Erin Gillespie, spokeswoman for the department, says it’s always looking for permanent matches and foster parents willing to house children on a temporary basis.
“More often, the children come into the families lives by being foster parents. We have lots of foster parents across the state who take these kids on a temporary basis. And if the kids can’t be reunified with their parents, a lot of times the foster parents will adopt," Gillespie said.
For many of what the department calls “forever families” the road to unification begins with foster parents. And there are several state and local organizations whose sole mission is to bring willing foster parents together with children who need homes. One of those groups is One Church, One Child—a foster matching service that helps the state locate willing foster families. Arrie Sailor is the group’s executive director, and she says her organization focuses on one group of foster children in particular. African American children.
“It’s a national problem, it’s a national crisis with the disparity and disproportionate crisis with black children. And as we know, the church is the leader, it’s the center of the black community. And if you want to get something done, you go to the church," said Sailor.
One Church One Child started in Illinois and was introduced to Florida back in the late 1980’s as a way to address the number of minority children in foster care system. Today Minority kids make up more than half of the children in Florida’s foster care system. According to the Department of Children and Families, in the 2011-2012 fiscal year, 950 black children were adopted, compared to more than 2,000 white children. Sailor says her group, while focusing on minority children is open and available for anyone seeking to adopt.
“There are a lot more folks out there who can adopt who don’t realize it, or who haven’t taken the time to think about it. But when the information is provided to them to say who can adopt, and the process, letting the families know what they process is for adoption, then we see more people come to the table.”
Department spokeswoman Erin Gillespie says while it is true African American children make up a disproportionate majority of kids in the system, it doesn’t mean fewer of them are being adopted.
“The disproportionality of kids in foster care, which technically leads to more kids in foster care being adopted per capita, so they actually may have a bit of a higher rate because there are more of them in the system.”
Where the adoption difficulties really lie, Gillespie says is when it comes to older children, sibling groups and kids with disabilities. They face more challenges, and families have to be willing to take on greater responsibilities than they otherwise would with a single, younger child. Another issue the department is dealing with: language barriers.
“We try to be culturally sensitive to the children we’re removing from their home. Again, the first place we go is a relative. If we’re removing from mom and dad, we want to place with grandma or aunt and uncle. And then you don’t have to worry about race, or culture or language, because it’s their family," said Gillespie.
But for some kids it’s just not possible. Most children are adopted by other family members or in the case of Samantha, who we heard from earlier, close family friends. The state does perform in-depth background checks on prospective foster and adoptive parents, but the rules regarding eligibility have changed in recent years. You don’t have to be married, you don’t have to own your own home. You have to be over 21 and financially stable, and adoptions are also open to same-sex couples.