N E W Y O R K, Aug. 14, 2001 -- Adoption fairs, where children and potential parents mingle, make 11-year-old Brichelle nervous.
"I don't like being watched all the time and then people whisper a lot about you and you don't know what they're talking about," Brichelle said. "If it's bad or it's good."
Victor, an athletic 10-year-old boy who has been in foster care for nine years said he attends the fairs with just one wish.
"I only want a dad, so he could take me out to the batting cage," Victor said. "I've been to a lot [of the fairs] so I don't feel that nervous."
Adoption fairs are basically parties designed to unite potential parents with children who are difficult for adoption agencies to place. Experts estimate that about 120,000 children are adopted annually in the United States, 31 percent fewer than in 1970, which saw a peak of 175,000 adoptions. More access to contraception and abortion, along with societal acceptance of single mothers has reduced the number of available babies.
Many potential parents want infants, but it's harder to find homes for the older children, children with emotional or physical disabilities, or groups of brothers and sisters who come to the gatherings hoping to find a family to grow up with.
Are they Meat Markets?
For older children who understand the gravity of the fairs, they can cause disappointment and heartbreak. And some critics say the fairs are meat markets that may do more harm than good. Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, for instance, did away with the fairs over concerns of children being marketed.
But Carol Yelverton, public affairs director for the Massachusetts Department of Social Services, disagrees.
"We understand that there's a lot of trauma around this for many children who go to these events," she said. "What we're finding is that these adoption parties work. They account for 10 percent of the matches that we see. That, to us, gives validity to the process."
Yelverton does, however, acknowledge that the fairs can be difficult for children hoping to be adopted.
"We are hearing from children this may be tough," Yelverton said. "But if this is going to get me a family, I'm going to go to this party and I'm going to do this, and maybe I'm going to meet my mom or dad."
A Heart-Wrenching Procedure
John and Kathleen Cosgrove have spent the last year and a half trying to adopt. They've learned that meeting a child is only the first step in a long and often frustrating process.
"Sometimes things don't work out, sometimes you can be matched more than once, and it's heart-wrenching," Kathleen said. "And that's where you really feel like the roller coaster is climbing the hill and then crashing down."
At least 20 states now run adoption fairs and more and more are creating innovative methods to find homes for these kids. Massachusetts is the first state to film video profiles, giving potential parents a visual look at a child's personality.
An interstate placement program using video conferencing allows potential parents in South Carolina to see and talk to kids in Georgia. Adoption Web sites have made cyberspace another common place for hopeful parents to find children to adopt.
And talk-show queen Rosie O'Donnell has devoted part of her new magazine, Rosie, to profiles on children who are up for adoption, joining the movement to help American children find homes.
Reconnecting the Wires
"When we started the magazine I wanted to put in all the things I am very passionate about, and one of them is adoption," O'Donnell said. "It's vitally important to our society that these kids find homes."
Rosie's "A+ Kids" column runs every other month, and already five out of the 13 children who have been featured are in the middle of the adoption process.
As an adoptive mother of three, O'Donnell says there's a long way to go for the parents and the children.
"You have to constantly reconnect the wires that have sadly been severed by neglect or abuse, and when you can do that, boy what a legacy to leave," she said.
Brichelle remains hopeful.
"I know I'm going to get adopted one of these days, or one of these years," she said. "And I'm going to have a family that loves me and cares for me a lot."
For more on the children who appeared in this segment, visit the Massachusetts Department of Social Services, or for more on adoption in general, visit the National Adoption Center .