• Dec 2002/Jan 2003
  • Vol. 3, No. 10

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Better Futures for Waiting Children

Wade F. Horn, Ph.D.
Assistant Secretary for Children and Families
Administration for Children and Families
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

In an ideal world, every child would be part of a loving and stable family. However, we do not inhabit an ideal world. Too many children cannot live with their biological parents because they were maltreated or, for other reasons, are unable to stay at home. Many are older children or have special emotional and physical needs. There were 542,000 children in public foster care in 2001; 131,000 are eligible and waiting to be adopted. While foster parents provide a valuable and much-appreciated service for children with no place else to go, foster placements are by definition temporary. Finding safe, secure, and permanent homes for these children through adoption is one of my highest priorities as Assistant Secretary for Children and Families. We are working in a variety of exciting ways to help States promote and support adoptions, using the promise of new technology, private-public partnerships, and all the incentives we have at hand to make sure that more children get what they wish for and deserve--a forever family.

In July 2002, we launched a new website, http://www.AdoptUsKids.org, featuring pictures and biographies of thousands of children who are awaiting adoption, most of whom have special needs. The site also provides information on adoption, answers questions about the children, serves as a resource for adoption professionals, and guides prospective adoptive parents to agencies that can facilitate adoption. Of course, prospective parents still must be approved for adoption after social workers perform a thorough evaluation, including home visits.

This site, the result of a collaboration among HHS; corporate partners including Answerthink, Sungard and Oracle; and nonprofit organizations is a groundbreaking example of how to use technology to erase geographic barriers and accomplish a compassionate purpose. By providing unprecedented access to information for families on kids awaiting adoption, we now have a new, streamlined way to make this important match. After a White House kickoff on July 23, 2002, featuring the President, First Lady, and our new spokesperson for adoption, Bruce Willis, the site has been receiving millions of hits. We look forward to some heartwarming success stories soon.

And that isn't all we're doing to promote adoption. To make sure that pregnant women are made aware of all their options, we implemented the Infant Adoption Awareness program in 2001. Through this program, health centers will train their staff to provide non-directive counseling including adoption information and referrals along with other courses of action discussed with pregnant clients.

In addition, we make financial awards to States that show increases in the number of children adopted each year. This was the first Federal performance-based incentive program in child welfare, and we think it works. Since its inception 6 years ago, the number of adoptions has increased by 79 percent, and we have made awards totaling some $145 million to all 50 States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. Our investment is clearly paying off, as States use the money from the incentive awards to improve their adoption and child welfare services.

Each November is National Adoption Month, and one of the ways we mark it is by giving awards to States, local agencies, private organizations, courts, businesses, individuals and families who have made outstanding contributions to increasing adoptions. In 2002, the 18 awardees ranged from the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services to Daunte Culpeper, the quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings--truly demonstrating that everyone, no matter what walk of life, can come forward to make sure that children find loving, lifetime families.

We will continue to promote adoption and strong families in other ways--through such initiatives as the expansion of the Safe and Stable Families program, which provides States with more money for adoption activities and family preservation, and the child and family services reviews, which hold States accountable for what happens to children in their care. And to inspire us, we will always keep in mind the smiling eyes of a child, happy to be cared for and loved.

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