America's systems of foster care and adoption are making progress. But they are not as good as they ought to be. In essence that is the latest assessment of the state of these related systems that are supposed to help children - often those in trouble - and adults who seek to adopt children. It comes from Mary Sheila Gall, chairwoman of the President's Task Force on Adoption. The task force plans to publish its final conclusions and recommendations in March.
Most of the 50,000 American children adopted each year by strangers go through the foster-care system first. Ms. Gall - who is the single adoptive parent of two hard-to place children - says the task force has found ``some encouraging things and some very discouraging things'' in foster-care and adoption programs. On the positive side, it found some ``innovative'' approaches to adoption by states, individual communities, and private adoption programs.
For instance, Kentucky is carrying out ``some very interesting approaches'' to helping adoptive parents adjust to their new and often troubled children. ``Problems don't stop the day the children walk into the family,'' Gall notes, but help from many agencies virtually stops then.
She says that encouraging wider use of post-adoption assistance is one step the task force intends to take now. Another is to obtain more private and corporate support for promoting adoption of some of the 36,000 children in the United States now waiting for parents. Sixty percent of these youngsters are considered hard to adopt because of age, handicaps, or race.
A lot of children and adoptive parents need such on-going help, affirms Joe Kroll, executive director of the North American Council on Adoptable Children. ``There really needs to be a much better system of ongoing, post-adoption help,'' Mr. Kroll adds. He says the basic thrusts of his organization are to obtain adoptive parents for special-needs children and ``support for the families that have adopted these kids. The two have to go together.''
Gall says there is a trend, albeit a ``very slow'' one, toward greater acceptance by adoption agencies of nontraditional adoptive parents - those who are single or older than most adoptive parents. She feels that the trend deserves to be speeded.
The state of Michigan provides special reimbursement to agencies for extra work required to effect adoption of hard-to-place children. Some agencies provide new adoptive parents with an experienced ``buddy,'' a parent who has had adopted children for a lengthy time.
But ``in many instances children spend too long in foster care,'' Gall says, despite a 1980 federal law that was supposed to speed children through foster care. She notes that a state study found that on average foster care children in Maryland spend five years in the system.