November is National Adoption Awareness Month.
Published: October 31, 2017
By: Stephanie Rodda
Most people are surprised to hear that there are more than 300 children in the state of Alabama who are ready and waiting to be matched with families for adoption with very little monetary cost involved. These children may sometimes fear they will be forgotten. After years in the foster care system, they may wonder if they will ever have a forever family.
They are not being forgotten, thanks to organizations like Heart Gallery Alabama and Children’s Aid Society of Alabama. It is their goal to promote possible placements through photography exhibits that feature the children and by providing support for existing placements. Heart Gallery Alabama’s motto is “There are no unwanted children, only unfound families.”
Working in collaboration with the Department of Human Resources, Heart Gallery Alabama strives to present photographs that “serve as a compelling and authentic representation of children across Alabama who are searching for loving, permanent families.”
Professional photographers are recruited to capture each child’s individual spirit. Founded in 2005, HGA has helped find permanent homes for more than 65 percent of the children photographed. That’s an impressive statistic, but the work is not done until all waiting children have been adopted.
Co-founder and executive director of Heart Gallery Alabama Michelle Bearman-Wolneck says there are several misconceptions that prevent interested families from pursuing adoption. “One (misconception) is that you can’t love a child the same if you didn’t give birth to them. As an adoptive parent, I know this can’t be further from the truth,” she explains. “The other misconception I have heard from people considering adopting from DHR is that all the available children are damaged. It is true that these children have been dealt a bad hand, but they have the ability to flourish and blossom if they are in a stable and loving environment.”
As a fellow adoptive parent, I couldn’t agree more strongly. All seven of my beautiful, bright, talented children were foster-adoptions. We have two sibling groups, one of three children and one of two children. Four of my children were considered older-child adoptions at ages 3,6,7, and 8 years old. There were some challenges to overcome as our family grew, but we did indeed overcome them. Today my children are 13, 14, 16, 17, 18, 21 and 23 years old. Our lives have sometimes been hectic and yes, hard. But that was for a season. Now we are enjoying the benefits of having a larger than normal family and wouldn’t trade our unique journey for any other.
There will be a number of events hosted by Heart Gallery Alabama in November for National Adoption Month. For instance, the exhibit will be on display at Protective Life in Birmingham and in the Ozark Municipal Building. Check their website for more details at HeartGalleryAlabama.com. Volunteers, including photographers, are always appreciated at HGA.
Children’s Aid Society not only cooperates with Heart Gallery Alabama events and DHR to increase adoption placements in our state, they also focus on supporting existing foster and adoptive families with many free services and events. Whether it is required counseling, professional training, networking conferences, parenting classes or their popular APAC summer camp, CAS has a goal of “Changing Lives, Building Families, Strengthening Communities.”
CAS welcomes volunteers also. For more information, visit ChildrensAid.org or call 205-251-7148.
The theme for the 2017 National Adoption Month is Teens Need Families, No Matter What. More information about this initiative can be found at childwelfare.gov. For the last two years the focus has been on the pressing and urgent need for adoptive families to be identified for teens in the system ready for adoption.
You might wonder what becomes of the teens that are never adopted and age out of the foster care system. This happens more often than you might think. Over 20,000 young people are emancipated from foster care each year with no identified support system in place. The statistics are alarming.
According to DHR.alabama.gov, “over 20 percent of these former foster youths are homeless, a little more than half will graduate from high school and less than 3 percent will earn a college degree by the time they are 25. Over 70 percent of young women who age out of foster care will be pregnant by age 21 and only half of the emancipated foster children will be employed by age 24.”
Thankfully this pressing need is being noticed and programs developed to aid these young adults so that the chances for their future is brighter. There is no better solution, however, than identifying and matching them with a family of their own.
Not everyone can adopt, but we can all make a difference. We can donate, volunteer, sponsor events, invite speakers, collect donations, and spread the word. Perhaps there will be someone in your circle of influence who would consider adoption if they knew more.
Adoption has changed my life and I can assure you, it is a beautiful way to build a family. As I mentioned earlier, we have adopted older children. And while I do often wish I could redeem the years we were not together, I more often celebrate the years we have had and will continue to have for many decades. Adopting older children, like teens, can be very special because not only do you choose them, they also choose you.
Stephanie Rodda is an author, blogger and freelance writer who lives in the Birmingham area with her husband and seven adopted children. StephanieRodda.wordpress.com