Will $22 million help more children find stable homes through adoption?By Georgia East South Florida Sun-Sentinel Posted February 17 2007
Adoption may become easier and less costly under a proposal by Gov. Charlie Crist.He wants to create an Office of Adoption and Child Protection, headed by a Chief Child Advocate who would be responsible for coordinating and streamlining adoption efforts statewide.
Crist is asking that all parents who adopt children in state care get an annual $3,000 subsidy, until that child turns 18. Children with special needs, who already get a state subsidy of about $3,600 a year, would see that increase to about $5,000.Special needs children, defined by the state as "difficult to place," include children who are 8 or older, physically or emotionally handicapped, of black or mixed race, or belong to a sibling group that will stay together."You have grandparents who want to do it but can't afford to adopt," said Ruth Dorce, director of foster care at CHOICES, Children and Families Consortium, in Pompano Beach.Currently, there is no cost to adopt children in state care and they continue to get Medicaid. But other expenses, such as child care and some therapy costs, drain pockets.Crist is considering whether private, domestic and international adoptions would also qualify for the subsidy under his $22.6 million proposal, which must be passed by the 2007 Legislature that convenes in March.Betty Douglas, 62, of Fort Lauderdale, recalls the first time she tried to hold her adopted daughter, Ta-Karra. The year-old baby moved away because she struggled with attachment."My heart just went out to her. She was over a year and wasn't walking. I don't know, I just fell in love," said Douglas, a foster mother to three other children. She said the nearly $300 a month she receives for Ta-Karra, now 3, covers day care and food."You can always use more," said Douglas, an assembly worker in an electronics plant, "But the Lord keeps us going."Currently, about 2,750 children in Florida, including 231 in Broward County, need adoptive families, according to state and county officials. On average, about 37 percent wait longer than three years to be adopted, living in foster homes, shelters and group homes.Social workers and child advocates say there are a number of issues that surface after a parent adopts, which is why they need to have access to help."Because [some of] these children have been abused and exposed to neglect and have had multiple moves within the foster care system, there are issues that despite good intentions and all the love don't disappear," said Sarah Franco, executive director of Jewish Adoption and Foster Care Options, which serves Broward and Palm Beach counties.But the way the system is set up, parents say they get more help if they provide foster care rather than adopt.Rita Gorenflo, 54, of Palm Beach Gardens, served as a foster mother for 13 months to her 8-year-old daughter.As a foster parent, she received a $1,400-a-month subsidy, but when she adopted, it dropped to $444 a month, she said.Gorenflo and her husband, Les, 43, have adopted seven children who have special needs."Don't ask us how we do it," says Gorenflo, a former nurse.Parents say they applaud the idea of a more central adoption office. In foster care, a caseworker can answer questions, but when a parent adopts, there is no designated person to fill that role.Maria Bond, who adopted two teenage girls, said she tried to get a tuition waiver honored by her daughter's college. Under Florida law, children who were in the foster care system can attend a Florida college for free. But Bond said the college wants the written waiver updated each semester and it's not clear who is responsible."If you have a centralized adoption unit, these things can be taken up there," said Bond.Advocates say they hope more funding and support will also decrease the instances where an adopted child is removed from a family because it was not a good match. Al Zimmerman, a spokesperson for the Florida Department of Children and Families, said there were 71 such cases statewide last year, out of 3,090 state-handled adoptions.While financial strain can make other issues more difficult to deal with, child advocates say good parenting is not a matter of money."These kids don't need Nintendo or name brand shoes," said Ellen O'Krent, executive vice president of Kids in Distress. "They need a family."Georgia East can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 954-385-7921.