Q & A: Foster Kids and Adoption

Aug. 19, 2005 — -- Diane Granito of the New Mexico Children, Youth & Families Department helped launch the Heart Gallery project, which aims to find loving homes for children in the foster care system. A local photographer suggested a gallery exhibition featuring photos of area children, and space was donated by Santa Fe's prestigious Gerald Peters Gallery. Some 1,200 people showed up on opening night in 2001.

Granito's pioneering exhibits inspired 60 Heart Gallery organizations in 45 states. In some places, the adoption rate after an exhibit is more than double the nationwide rate of adoption from foster care.

Bob Brown profiled the Heart Gallery on "20/20," and questions poured in from viewers. Granito answers some of them below.

Kim in Newberg, Ore., asks:

Are these children orphaned? Or are they just children in foster care for a variety of reasons?

Diane Granito:

I would like to take this opportunity to explain how foster care and adoption through the state protective services agencies, or agencies contracted to place children for them, work.

At any given moment, more than 500,000 children are in foster care across the United States. The children come into protective custody almost exclusively due to abuse and/or neglect by their birth parents. Within a few days of the children being taken into custody, the birth parents have the opportunity to present their side of the case at a court hearing. The judge hears evidence and decides whether keeping the child in custody is warranted. If it is, the birth family must follow a treatment plan outlined by the court with the help of the protective services workers, and must follow it closely if the child is to return home. In some cases the parents willingly relinquish their rights to the child. After a certain amount of time (generally less than a year), if the parents have not done what the court required to make the home safe for the children, the court will move to terminate their parental rights. (If there is only one parent involved there must be a search for the second parent when the child first comes into custody and if that parent is interested in taking the child he or she must be proven a fit parent.)

Relatives who come forward to take the children must be approved to foster or adopt just like anyone else. The children, especially the younger ones, are often adopted by their foster parents, which is a happy ending as they have already bonded with them. Legal priority to adopt the child is granted to the foster parents after a certain time period if there is no viable relative available.

The protective services agency is responsible for the custody and care of the child, and when there is no relative or foster parent interested in adopting, the agency must recruit a family or match the child with a family which has already been approved. Once a match is made, the prospective adoptive family will go through a phase called "disclosure", in which they will learn about all of the challenges and strengths of the child, and what they may expect if they go ahead with the adoption. If a placement is made, the agency will follow it until the court finalization, which can take six months or longer. The vast majority of children placed through protective services agencies are eligible for adoption subsidies until they turn 18.

The Heart Gallery is designed to show the world the faces and hearts of these children who, through no fault of their own, have no biological or prospective adoptive family to take them, in the hope that someone from the general public or an already approved adoptive family will decide to open their hearts and homes to them.

Hector Rodriguez in El Paso, Texas, asks:

I am a PPA certified photographer and I am thrilled by your project, I would like to see if it's possible to photograph kids in my home area. My wife Laura and I are also foster parents for more than two years now, and we have been told about the restrictions of taking their pictures; that's why we would like to see if we can help these kids with the pictures.

Diane Granito:

It is true that generally children in foster care whose birth parents' parental rights are still intact cannot have their faces shown or last names used due to confidentiality restrictions. In most states though, once it is determined that the child will not be going back home, the state moves to terminate the parental rights and once that is done most children can be recruited for openly. One state I have been working with on many city and county-based Heart Galleries does not free the children for adoption until a family is identified, so in order to show the children's faces in the exhibits they are obtaining special permission from the courts, or sometimes from the birth parents.

Regarding helping your local Heart Gallery, please go to adoptuskids.org and follow the Heart Gallery links to "Exhibits and contacts" and contact them. If there is no group near you or no statewide group, you may want to start one yourself. In that case, read all the planning information provided and then let me know so we can post your group on the site.

Jennifer in Eastpointe, Mich., asks:

I was wondering how I can attend one of these Galleries and also steps needed for adoption.

Diane Granito:

For exhibit information please go to adoptuskids.org and follow the Heart Gallery links to "Exhibits and contacts." Regarding adoption, the first step is to contact the local branch of your protective services agency. Their placement unit will be happy to start you on the approval process, which includes a home study (background check, physical visit to the home, interviews, references, etc.) as well as training.

Angela in Tucson, Ariz., asks:

Is it strictly renowned photographers who are working on the project? Would you be willing to consider somebody unknown (but talented) to photograph kids?

Diane Granito:

It is definitely important that photographers be talented as that is what differentiates these portraits from the standard "mug shots" taken at schools and in department stores. However, some of the most beautiful and touching portraits have been taken by unknown professionals or very talented amateurs. Here in New Mexico, CYFD's general counsel, Dan Pearlman, took an extraordinary photo of five teenage siblings all holding hands and jumping over a puddle together. It told the story of the children's closeness, and that message inspired a family to adopt all five of them.

Contact your local Heart Gallery planners (find contact information at adoptuskids.org) and volunteer your services. They may want to look at your portfolio but it is talent, not fame, they are looking for.

Jeff in Granville, Ohio, asks:

Has this program been done in Ohio? Can one adopt children from other states or is it easier to do from within the state you live? Thanks.

Diane Granito:

Yes, if you go to adoptuskids.org and follow the Heart Gallery links to "Exhibits and contacts" you will find some Ohio information. A Dayton group will be starting up soon also.

Regarding adopting from other states, interstate placements do occur. That said, if your state has spent resources getting you approved, initially at least it is because they want you to adopt a child from them. However, if you have waited a long time for an older (8 or above) child, without satisfactory responses from your social workers, you usually have the right to have your home study sent out to another state for a specific special needs child or sibling group you have identified (special needs can be determined by such things as age and being members of a sibling group needing to stay together.)

If you have the funds, you can get approved to adopt through private agencies and still adopt through the foster care system.

Leona in Chesapeake, Va., asks:

Can a single parent adopt? What about adopting a child of another race? Is there a problem with that? What about the costs involved? I have heard that "regular" adoptions can cost thousands. Thank you and may God bless your work.

Diane Granito:

In New Mexico and most other states, single parents may adopt. When the time comes for a match, the social workers look at the needs of the child and the prospective adoptive family or individual. Some children, for example, may have been raised by a single parent and may be more used to that than a traditional family. Others may thrive with other children in the home, and/or two parents. Bonds that have been established with the child are considered important, so a teacher, coach, foster parent or other person having an important role in the child's life may be given priority over a two-parent home also.

Interracial adoptions are usually examined on a case-by-case basis, but adoptions between certain races are generally well-accepted here in New Mexico and in most other states. (The five siblings mentioned above are African-American and their adoptive family is white, and there are numerous adoptions of white children by Hispanics and vice versa).) The laws and state policies have changed a lot in this area in the last several years, usually for the better.

Regarding the adoption of Native American children, under the 1978 federal Indian Child Welfare Act, the tribes have a say in determining the placement of the children, if they come into protective custody of the state at all. (They are often handled directly by the tribe.)

Thanks for your blessings regarding my work: I truly believe that God has blessed the work of the many dedicated people around the country who are putting hours and hours of their time into Heart Gallery exhibits for the sake of these special children, as well as their foster and adoptive parents and those who work in any capacity to help them. And I also believe that I am blessed to be able to play a small part in creating brighter futures for these deserving children. However, I also pray that someday I will not be needed, because every child has a loving family.

Feledra in Louisville, Ky., writes:

Dear Diane,

I would like to find out if there are any exhibits coming to Louisville, Ky., or if I can be of any help in getting one to come here.

Thank you for the work you do!!

Diane Granito:

There is a group in Kentucky (see adoptuskids.org and follow the Heart Gallery links to "Exhibits and contacts." The contact, as you will see, is Scarlet Sebastian, and her e-mail address is scarlet_sebastian@hotmail.comThank you for your concern for our waiting children.

Sean in Ashburn, Va., writes:

As a portrait photographer, how can I help (if at all)? I'm not a famous People or Sports Illustrated photographer, but this sounds like it would be a VERY meaningful project, one that I'd like to participate in.

Diane Granito:

See my response above to Angela in Tucson. The majority of Heart Gallery photographers around the country are not famous, just talented and concerned about helping the children!

James & Dawn in Vancouver, Canada, write:

My husband and I have been married just over five years and we've had problems getting pregnant. We saw "20/20" Aug. 12, 2005, and went on the Web site and saw three beautiful girls, Sabrina, Secret and Breeana. We were wondering if couples in Canada were able to adopt as easy as Americans. We have a loving home, waiting to fill. We are very interested. Please reply.

Diane Granito:

I have heard of international placements, but rarely. You would still have to get approved to adopt, i.e. have a home study and get training, there in Canada. I saw a wonderful tale on "Adoption Stories" (Discovery Health Channel) about a Canadian couple who adopted two children … I am sure there are many children there in Canada your protective services agency will be encouraging you to adopt! If you are still interested in the three charming sisters, you might want to call the protective services agency in California which is responsible for them. Go to http://www.childsworld.ca.gov to find out more.

Stephanie in Beckley, W. Va., asks:

I would love to adopt but it is so expensive. Is it easier and less costly to adopt through fostering? These children really touched me. We have two wonderful children but can't have anymore, although we long for more.

Diane Granito:

There are generally no fees connected with adopting through protective services agencies, and, in fact, most of the children are eligible for adoption subsidies until they turn 18. Foster parents also receive financial subsidies while the children are in their care.

While you may adopt children such as those in the Heart Gallery directly, we also highly recommend adopting through foster care as you have already formed a bond with the child. Foster parent adoptions rarely "disrupt" (the term used when the adoption does not work out and the child is returned to the agency.) If someone is interested in adopting a baby or young child, the foster/adopt program is the easiest way as there are waiting lists for adopting these children. After a certain time of fostering (six months generally), if a child becomes free for adoption and there is no viable relative who wants the child, the foster parent(s) have legal priority to adopt in most states.

Colleen in Hudson, Ohio asks:

Is there a listing of of all Heart Gallery exhibits, locations and times?

Diane Granito:

Please go to adoptuskids.org and follow the Heart Gallery links to "Exhibits and contacts."