POSTED ON NOVEMBER 1, 2006:
Adopting An Attitude
When a life is in the balance, there is only one option
November is National Adoption Awareness Month, a matter close to the hearts of Urban Tulsa Weekly readers and, naturally, the community as a whole. We have made a point of reminding the city of the great need of children for caring, loving families. So, besides this feature story, throughout this month and into December we'll continue our constructive reminders as we kick off our 2nd annual Christmas for Kids campaign.
We'll look at the issues surrounding adoption, highlight its importance and attempt to tackle some of the big problems facing adoptive families.
National Adoption Month could be considered 30 years-old this year. Former Massachusetts Governor and presidential candidate Michael Dukakis issued the first state Adoption Week proclamation in 1976, followed shortly thereafter by a proclamation by President Gerald Ford to the North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC). Originally observed in May, after a few years Adoption Week came to be celebrated during the week of Thanksgiving.
Ten years later, NACAC helped coordinate a national "Calling Out" event, in which adoption advocacy groups across the nation gather on their respective capitols' steps to call out the names of children in their states who needed homes.
Two years after that, President Ronald Regan proclaimed it National Adoption Week. President George H. Bush also issued proclamations in 1991 and 1992.
In 1990, NACAC expanded National Adoption Week into National Adoption Awareness Month for the month of November. During his presidency, President Bill Clinton issued an Adoption Month proclamation every November of his eight years in office.
Since then, National Adoption Awareness Month has continued to grow, highlighting the importance of adoption and providing opportunities for the public to learn more about adoption. Though adoption awareness is important year 'round, National Adoption Awareness month provides local and national groups to plan coordinated events to raise awareness, recruit prospective adoptive parents and bring together all kinds of people whose lives have been touched by adoption.
Locally, the Department of Human Services kicks off the celebratory month with an Adoption Party, the goal of which is to match children in need of homes with potential adoptive parents.
Jane Eneff, Area 6 Swift Adoption Supervisor for DHS said the event will typically attract 100 children and about 150 families interested in adoption and provide them with the opportunity to meet face-to-face.
"It's a good way for families and children to connect on a more personal level," said Eneff.
At the end of the party, Eneff said, families may sign a letter of intent to be considered as adoptive parents for the children they meet. She said the party is successful in placing a lot of children, and it is especially geared toward sibling groups and older children.
Also during National Adoption Awareness Month, DHS will have an Adoption Celebration in Oklahoma City on November 15 to present awards to outstanding families and adoption advocates in the state.
A Different Way to Make a Family
There are three types of adoption for parents to consider--domestic newborn adoption, foster adoption and international adoption. (Although international adoption is an increasingly popular option among parents, for the purposes of this article, it will not be discussed.)
Domestic newborn adoption is easier now than ever before due to waning stigma circling the idea of adoption. It's no longer about an unwed mother, ashamed of her "condition," being hauled out of the state somewhere for nine months to have her baby, never knowing what will happen to him afterwards.
The public's growing openness and willingness to discuss issues that may have been previously taboo, as well as events like National Adoption Awareness Month, are only making adoption easier and more manageable for all parties involved.
Now, a birthmother has more options in making the right decision for both her and her child, and that, says Urban Tulsa Weekly's Julie Skrzypczak, is how it should be.
Skrzypczak is the Director of Operations at UTW, and she's also the mother of three adopted children, ages 10, eight and three. She said that, adoption should be about the birthmother's choices when it comes to choosing adoption and an adoptive family. Birthmothers go through a lot of searching and counseling when making an adoption plan that is best for them and their children.
The lessening stigma around adoption also means more adoptions are open, meaning adoptive families and birthmothers often have contact with one another.
Typically in domestic newborn adoptions, according to the National Adoption Center (http://adopt.org), a family interested in adoption will select a local agency, and sometimes an adoption attorney, to assist in the adoption process. The family completes a homestudy, a series of meetings between an agency social worker and the potential adoptive family for approval for adoption. Documents required are birth certificates, marriage licenses, child abuse clearance and personal references.
From there, the family is placed, by the agency, with either a child or newborn based on the mother's request. Under Oklahoma law, consent for adoption may be given by the birthmother only after the child is born. Consent is irrevocable if given before a judge or after 15 days if given before a notary. However, revocation does not mean the child is automatically returned to the birthparent.
Unfortunately, the cost of adoption is too steep for many who would make fine, prospective parents--generally around $15,000 to $20,000, it may include some of the birthmother's living and medical expenses. Adoptions may be finalized in as little as a year, a short amount of time when compared to the process as little as 10 years ago.
The birthmother can specify characteristics desired in an adoptive family--whether or not the family is a single parent or married couple, how many children are already in the family, the prospective parents' ages, race, religion, etc.
One problem some birthmothers have encountered while attempting to choose a potential adoptive family is the lack of African American families desiring to adopt. To address that concern, DHS sponsors One Church, One Child of Oklahoma, a program designed to inform the African American community about the need for adoptive and foster homes, to dispel myths about adoption and the foster care system and to find more permanent homes for African American children.
The program was first founded in 1980 by Father George Clementes, Pastor of Holy Angels Church in Chicago. In Oklahoma, DHS and One Church, One Child work in partnership with the statewide Ministerial Advisory Council.
According to their mission statement, the program may charge churches in the African American communities in the area with one challenge--to recruit from the members of their churches at least one family to adopt or foster an African American child.
The program's home base is in Oklahoma City. To learn more about the program, visit www.okdhs.org.
Skrzypczak mentioned some other concerns relating to adoption--common misconceptions held by members of the community who know little to nothing about the issue, which may proliferate myths concerning adoption.
One problem Skrzypczak has encountered is misuse of terms when speaking about adoption. For instance, she is sometimes asked if she is the "real mother" of her children. She said her family speaks in terms of "forever."
Birthparents and adoptive parents are both real. Without birthparents, a child would not be alive, but adoptive parents are the forever family.
More than that, though, it pains her to hear someone say, "she gave her child up for adoption."
"Birthparents don't give their children up," Skrzypczak said. "They're not puppies. Children are placed for adoption because their birthparents make an adoption plan, realizing they are unable to take care of their child because of some problem in their own lives."
The other thing people say to her is, "Aren't your kids lucky their mother gave them up" or, "Aren't your children lucky to be adopted by you."
"I hope they're lucky to have me as a parent," she said, "but it doesn't have anything to do with being adopted. It has to do with their biological families having enough love and strength to recognize they couldn't provide the best homes for them."
Skrzypczak said it troubles her to hear women being criticized for placing their children in adoptive homes; her experience is that it takes tremendous love and courage to make that decision.
Fostering a Need
The other type of adoption available to prospective parents is through a public agency, such as the Oklahoma DHS. This route is different from adopting a domestic newborn. Nationally, this is sometimes referred to as "foster adoption," but Eneff said DHS does not use that term.
"Most of our children who are adopted have been in foster care and many of our foster parents do adopt. But, as our statistics portray, many of our children are adopted by relatives, kinship, and non-related families," Eneff said.
In DHS adoption situations, the children are in the custody of the state, having been removed from their homes by the state. In these cases, the birthparents did not choose adoption for their child--the state chose for them.
Foster adoption cases are extremely sensitive. According to Eneff, children are placed in DHS custody after having been removed from their homes due to abuse and/or neglect.
"DHS investigates referrals of abuse and/or neglect of children," Eneff said. "If children are found to be at significant risk by remaining in their homes, they can be removed by law enforcement and/or a court order.
"When the court orders children to remain in DHS custody, their parents are usually given a plan to complete in order to correct the conditions which brought the children into custody. If the parents successfully complete the plan, the family can be reunified. If not, parental rights can be terminated by the court."
Also, some children in foster care have attachment disorders, Eneff said. Attachment disorders can be caused by severe abuse and neglect as well as lack of permanent caretakers.
A challenge DHS caseworkers face is finding families interested in adopting older children, especially older children in larger sibling groups. Many families are looking to adopt newborn babies or infants, overlooking the fact that there are many older children and teenagers who need good homes. And it is always DHS' goal to keep sibling groups together.
According to DHS statistics for the fiscal year 2006, Oklahoma saw 8,348 children in foster care, 869 of them in Tulsa. Of those in Oklahoma, Swift placed 1,336 children in adoptive homes.
About half of the children placed in adoptive homes were female and half were male. The majority of children placed in adoptive homes, about 52 percent, were infants and children up to the age of five. Thirty-six percent of children placed in adoptive homes were aged six to 12, and 12 percent were ages 13 to 17. Sixty-two percent of those children were Caucasian (in that 62, seven percent were Hispanic), 18 percent were African American and 20 percent were Indian.
Of the adoptive parents, 31 percent were foster parents, 40 percent relatives (of those, 67 percent were maternal relatives and 33 percent paternal), nine percent were kinship and 20 percent were non-related.
In Area 6 of Oklahoma, which includes Tulsa, Creek, Osage and Washington counties, 284 children were placed in adoptive homes.
According to the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997, if a child has been in foster care, instead of with his or her parents, for 15 out of 22 months, then DHS can rightfully move forward to arrange for termination of the parents' rights. Termination of parental rights is a legal matter requiring a court order. Following termination of parental rights, the child may become free for adoption.
Parents who are interested in foster adoption must first meet with a caseworker for an at-home consultation in which the process of adoption and the application packet are reviewed.
Once the family fills out the application packet, they must also fill out additional paperwork for the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation and complete fingerprinting for an FBI criminal background check. Families are also investigated for a history of child abuse or neglect.
Next, a homestudy must be conducted, a process that can take up to 75 days, followed by the completion of medical forms and other documentation. From there, if there have been no problems, a caseworker is assigned and the family begins to think about their own abilities and how they would care for the child they would like to adopt. Families have opportunities to attend adoption parties, like the one DHS sponsored recently (there are typically five or six of these throughout the year), to meet children.
When the family meets a child they'd like to adopt, they sign a letter of intent and wait for approval. After a family is approved for placement of a child, visits are coordinated and the transition of the child into his or her adoptive home begins. There is a trial adoption placement, with supervision, before the legal paperwork is completed and the adoption is finalized.
The process can be very lengthy and, at times, extremely frustrating for some parents. The Skrzypczak's adoption of their third child through took more than two years, partly due to the ineptitude of the state-appointed attorney representing the interests of the baby as well as the inattentiveness of a judge.
Every adoption is different, Skrzypczak said, every one fraught with twists and turns, heartache and uncertainty.
But when the process is complete, the joy is immeasurable.
Eneff said the length of the adoption process will vary, depending on many factors. She said that, if a child has not been placed with a family prior to adoptive placement, there is usually a six-month wait before the adoption can be finalized.
Also, some other factors could be legal issues requiring the attention of an attorney and the court and obtaining a date with the court for the finalization of the adoption. And Eneff said some children and family's adjustment to adoptive placement requires more time than others.
Another problem could be that there are only a certain number of DHS caseworkers available to handle so many children. One thing for certain, though, is that most of the workers assigned to these children's cases have the children's best interests in mind. Their goal is to find safe, loving homes for the children for whom they are responsible while they are in the custody of the state.
Over the next few weeks, we'll provide an opportunity to learn even more about foster care, the adoption process and what you can do to help.
Walk for Adoption. On Sunday, Nov. 4, Bishop Kelley High School will host Walk for Adoption from 2-4pm in the football stadium at 3905 S. Hudson (just north of BKHS)
The walk, which takes place in National Adoption Month, is a gathering during which people are encouraged to share their stories about adoption. The fun walk around the track is a chance for birth parents, adoptive parents and adoptees to communicate and celebrate the miracles of adoption.
In addition to the walk, the event will also have fun activities for families, such as a Jupiter Jump, face painting, music, and a silent auction. There will also be information from crisis pregnancy centers available to help women learn about their options regarding adoption. Channel 8's Yvonne Harris will emcee the event.
For more than 30 years, Catholic Charities Adoption Services has helped bring families together through adoption. The Walk for Adoption recognizes the marvelous wonders that adoption brings to Oklahoma families. Anyone whose life has been touched by adoption is welcome to join the Walk.
The cost to participate is $5 for youth, $10 for adults or $15 for a family. Proceeds will help promote Catholic Charities Adoption Services and assist birth mothers with living and medical expenses. If you are unable to attend but would like to donate to Catholic Charities, please send your contributions to PO Box 6249, Tulsa, OK 74148.
For more information on the event, please contact Mary Lee Ingram at 585--8167.
Christmas for Kids
Once again, Urban Tulsa Weekly sponsors a campaign to benefit children in state's custody
By Holly Wall
Urban Tulsa Weekly is teaming up, for the second year in a row, with the Oklahoma Department of Human Services to sponsor the "Christmas for Kids" campaign.
The campaign provides Christmas gifts for children and teenagers living in temporary and permanent foster care. DHS hopes to provide gifts for the 1,400 children living in the Tulsa County Shelter, foster homes, group homes, in-patient settings, contracted settings and reunified homes. UTW hopes to provide, with generous support from our readers, at least 100 of those gifts.
Last year, UTW exceeded its goal of 100 gifts donated by providing, with our readers' help, gifts for 106 children and an additional $1,500 in gift certificates for teenagers.
Donna Hendrix, OKDHS Child Welfare Volunteer Coordinator, said that, though the state provides funds for the daily needs of children in foster care, none is available for Christmas gifts, and foster parents who provide homes to these children cannot always afford Christmas gifts.
That's where we come in, Tulsa. Every week you'll see a Christmas tree decorated with numbers representing a child in DHS custody. Alongside the child's corresponding number is his or her Christmas wish list (confidentiality is required in these situations, hence a number rather than the child's name). Choose one or two gifts to buy, then bring them to Urban Tulsa Weekly's offices, at 710 S. Kenosha. Do not wrap the gift, but affix somewhere the number of the child for which the gift is intended.
If you'd rather, you may also buy non-specific but oft-requested gifts and bring them to our offices unwrapped. Gifts that are always needed include car seats, dolls, infant toys, pre-school educational toys, bicycles and tricycles, games, remote control vehicles, sleeping and overnight bags, bath/body items, cassette/CD players and radios, electronic hand-held games, sports equipment and jewelry.
Sometimes overlooked in campaigns like these are the needs of older children in DHS custody, who tend to want and need clothes, music and make-up. For these children and others, DHS strong recommends buying gift certificates to Wal-Mart, Target, Kohl's, Ross, Gordman's, Old Navy, or Woodland Hills or Promenade Mall.
Last year, we were overwhelmed with the generosity of our readers, who not only provided fantastic gifts for these children, but also included an abundance of batteries when the toy required it.
The deadline to make your donation is December 12. Please bring all donations to our offices at 710 S. Kenosha in downtown Tulsa between 7th and 8th Streets. For information or inquiries, call 592-5550 and ask for Siara or Nancy or E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, with "Christmas for Kids" as the subject.
In addition to but separate from the Christmas for Kids Campaign, UTW will spend the month promoting adoption awareness for children in permanent foster care, with two children available for adoption showcased each week. The photos of the children (which are different from the children on the Christmas tree) are provided by Waterworks Photography, who formed a partnership with DHS to provide exposure of children who have been in foster care for an extended amount of time and are in need of good homes.
The photos you'll see are part of a photographic exhibit called "The Heart Gallery Exhibit," which will travel the state to offer various communities an opportunity to get to know children who are in need of adoption. Each of the professional photographers who shot the exhibit got to know the children they photographed in order to represent their true spirits in the photographs.
Right now and through December 31, the exhibit is on display at the Shawnee Mall in Shawnee. From there, it will move to the Marland Mansion in Ponca City.
If you are interested in finding out more about adoption or adopting one of the children seen in Urban Tulsa Weekly, contact Jane Eneff at DHS, 581-2552.
We urge you to open your hearts and pocketbooks this holiday season and assist our children in having a very merry Christmas.
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