Adoption programs attract federal funds

By Trina Trice

Danita and Billy Baxter are in the process of adopting four children, all siblings, taking them out of a life of foster care.

The Baxters have been taking care of four brothers, ages 14 and 5 and 3-year-old twins.

"We became foster parents through our interest of becoming adoptive parents," Danita Baxter said. "At first we always said we'd only have two kids, but when we became the foster parents of the four brothers, we were okay with that. The first day they came, the oldest one asked us if he could call us mom and dad. Since then, we've felt like mom and dad to them."

People like the Baxters who want to become the parents of foster children with special needs are hard to find which is why the federal government is awarding Georgia $374,000 to help place more children into permanent adoptive homes from state-sponsored foster care.

"Every time a waiting child finds a loving, permanent home, it helps not only the child but the family and the nation," said Tommy Thompson, secretary of U.S. Health and Human Services.

How much of the money Clayton County will get has yet to be determined, says Cathy Ratti, director of the Clayton County Department of Family and Children Services.

How the money will be spent, however, is a surety.

"You're permitted to use it to enhance recruitment capabilities," Ratti said. "We do a whole recruitment plan."

To attract more potential parents for adoptable children with special needs, Ratti says, her local agency seeks out community gatherings such as the upcoming Sensational Saturday at the Clayton County International Park to get the word out.

The money the county gets will most likely be used for producing information materials for attending similar outreach activities.

Other uses for the money could include buying a camera to take pictures of the children that need adopting and putting up a billboard advertising the program.

U.S. Human and Health Services is doling out $14.9 million in bonuses to state governments, which collectively increased the number of adoptions by 3,203 for fiscal year 2002.

Puerto Rico and 25 states are receiving adoption bonuses, Thompson said.

Georgia found adoptive homes for 1,082 children. That's 130 more than in the preceding year, said Jed Nitzberg, spokesman for the state Department of Human Resources.

Each year, about 51,000 children nationwide are adopted from foster care.

Last fiscal year 30 children were adopted in Clayton County, Ratti said.

Children considered to have special needs and are therefore harder to get adopted are children black older than 1; brothers and sisters who need to be placed together; children ages 8 and older; and children with physical, emotional or mental disabilities.

To be eligible for adoption some of the children's parents have voluntarily given up their parental rights. However, most have been removed from their birth parents' homes by the courts and their parents' parental rights have been terminated due to abuse, neglect or abandonment. Most of the children come from difficult situations and have been cared for in foster homes while waiting to be adopted.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.