Children in limbo - some wait years for a stable, loving home
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Dr. Ladner believes lack of understanding of the informal adoption patterns that have long existed in the black community has compounded the problem, giving white agencies the impression that black couples would not be likely to adopt.Skip to next paragraph
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Additional obstacles to the adoption of black children were the stereotypes concerning the ideal adoptive family. ``Agencies looked at a family's income,'' says Mary Lee Allen. ``They had to own a home. Many agencies have assumed that black families would have difficulty meeting these requirements, and this assumption has limited the pool for the adoption of black children.''
``While informal adoption in the black community has always taken place,'' says Allen, ``the formal adoption system grew up in a white setting. Agencies knew the white community. They didn't know the black community.
``In the last 10 years, however, people have been looking more carefully at the foster care system and they've seen this disproportionately large number of black children there. Recently there's been a movement to do something about them.''
One significant manifestation of that movement is a private adoption agency in Detroit, Homes for Black Children. This agency, founded in 1969 by Sydney Duncan, has placed more than 800 black children in adoptive homes. In its first year of operation, it placed 135 -- more than all the other adoption agencies in Detroit combined.
``At first,'' Ms. Duncan says, ``we didn't know we'd be successful in getting black families to adopt. But as black people we knew there was a history of black families taking in children not born to them.''
``During our first six months, we had more than 700 inquiries from black people who were interested in adoption,'' says Duncan. ``Many of them had always wanted children but had never thought of coming to an agency.''
``Black people did not perceive that the established agencies were there to serve them,'' she says, ``and in turn, these agencies were not aware that there were black families who wanted to adopt.''
The numbers of children placed by Homes for Black Children have decreased each year, and Duncan sees this as an indication of her agency's success.
``People are no longer saying it can't be done -- black families don't adopt,'' she says ``This has altered what the other agencies in Detroit are doing. They're placing black children themselves.''
Concern for children like Crystal and Craig has been mounting in the black community, and the crisis of unadopted black children is being reversed.
``The black community is doing a better job of adopting black children than the white community is of adopting white children,'' says Charles Gershenson of the Administration for Children, Youth, and Families of the US Department of Health and Human Services.''
A major force in this new trend is Robert L. Woodson, president of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, which promotes networking among black self-help groups. The agency has devised a plan for raising money to establish regional adoption agencies for black children across the nation.
``There are a lot of middle-income blacks who would like to respond to this need,'' Mr. Woodson says. ``Most of them strongly support our churches. Through our churches, we can tell a million or 2 million black households that thousands of black children need homes.''
``We hope to raise enough money to set up five regional adoption centers, similar to the one in Detroit.'' he says. ``I believe we can bring these children home.'' HIGHLIGHTED STATISTICS: 1) On the basis of data from 40 states gathered in 1984, of the 276,000 children living either in foster homes or in supervised group homes, 88,000, or 32%, were black. This is more than twice the percentage of black people in the United States.1 SOURCE: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2) Black children are three times as likely to be in foster care as white children. Black children remain in foster care much longer than white children; 31% of black children in foster care remain there for more than five years, compared with 18.6% of white children.1 SOURCE: U.S. Department of Health and Human Serices. 3) As of 1984, data collected from 25 states indicate that 57% of the white children in the foster care system were adopted, compared with 26% of the black children.1 SOURCE: U.S. Department of Health and Human Serices.