Saturday, November 15, 2008

NY journalist cares about foster care

In foster care, there's always room for one more
Caring families can help rescue kids and their parents
Cleary, John. Elmira Star-Gazette, Nov. 15, 2008.

This week, I became a father again. Twice.

My wife and I finalized our third and fourth adoptions this week. Two foster children, girls ages 3 years and 15 months, have permanently joined our family. We now have six children.

It is, of course, a joyous thing. Our new youngest daughter has lived with us since birth, her new older sister for almost all of her life. To have them become, officially, part of our family is a cause for celebration. We are happy the adoptions could be finalized in November, National Adoption Month.

But it is bittersweet, too. We know now our family is complete. We don't have the space or, honestly, the inclination to adopt any more children. We have been foster parents for nearly seven years, having cared for more than two dozen children. With our family having grown so much, taking in more children is difficult. We may be available for temporary respite care or the occasional emergency case, but I think our days of long-term foster care are behind us, at least until our own children are older.

Foster care has been such an integral part of our family life, we don't quite know how to feel. Except for brief vacations or time between cases, this weekend we are without foster children for the first time in our married life. We feel we are ending the first chapter of our life as a family, and while we're excited to see what comes next, we'll miss the challenges we're leaving behind.

Foster care has been the most exhilarating, draining, uplifting, depressing, fun and frustrating experience of my life. Above all, it has been illuminating. We've learned some valuable lessons.

We've come to believe no case is hopeless. We have met families with enormous challenges to overcome and have seen them do it. We've known addicts who have gotten clean, victims who have escaped abusive relationships, homeless parents who have found suitable housing and mental health patients who have made great strides in treatment. We have seen children we were certain were heading to adoption go home and live happy, safe lives.

When it happens, it is beautiful to see.

I've learned all children crave a measure of control. I believe what motivates a lot of a child's behavior, good and bad, is the desire to demonstrate, to themselves or others, that they have some control over their lives. Children, especially those in foster care, have little say in where they live, what they eat, when they sleep and what they do. So they try to control the things they can, often in antisocial ways. A lot of problems, I think, can be resolved or prevented by seeking an understanding of the child's need for control.

Most of all, we've learned the system that cares for these children can work. It requires the active advocacy of caseworkers, judges who are compassionate but firm, law guardians who care and foster parents who aren't content to watch children get lost in the shuffle.

You can join that team. Call your county Department of Social Services and ask how you can open your home to a child. You will never do anything as rewarding as helping a child in need.

John P. Cleary is a freelance writer from Elmira, NY

Friday, November 14, 2008

Need for Post Adoption Sibling Visitation

Adoption gives birth to a new family for children in foster care
Rulhmann, Dandrea. Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, Nov. 13, 2008.

As a Family Court judge, I have the privilege of co-chairing, with Judge Gail Donofrio, Monroe County's celebration of National Adoption Day on Friday. National Adoption Day represents a day of promise and hope for 1,300 New York children in foster care awaiting permanent homes.

The chaos created by substance abuse, unaddressed mental illness or physical violence has left these children without safe, permanent homes. By definition these children have lost much, not the least of which is their connection to their biological brothers and sisters.

For me, growing up with three sisters has created a lifelong safety net, providing constant friends, confidants and support. Indeed a person's relationship with his or her siblings typically lasts longer than many other relationships, including those with parents. Not surprisingly, a child in foster care often reveals in court that he desperately misses his biological siblings.

New York Family Court regulations encourage contact between biological siblings before adoption, recognizing the importance of the sibling bond in developing a child's identity and well-being. Many adoptive parents unselfishly chose to continue that contact after the child's adoption is finalized. Some by acts of unconditional love adopt more than one child from the same biological family, refusing to separate them.

Yet these are real families, with myriad problems. Unfortunately, risks to health and safety may prevent an ongoing relationship between a child and his biological siblings. In these cases, adoptive brothers and sisters fill the developmental and emotional void for the adopted child. Adoptive siblings become family. In this way, adoption can bring unfathomable promise for every child in foster care.

Ruhlmann is a Monroe County Family Court judge and guest essayist

New York to Host National Adoption Day 2008

Events in all 50 States to Kick-off in New York; 151 New York City Children to be Connected to Loving, Permanent Families
Press Release from National Adoption Day Coalition, Nov. 13, 2008.

On November 15, 2008, hundreds of communities in all 50 states will hold courtroom celebrations to finalize more than 4,000 adoptions of children from foster care, bringing the total number of finalized adoptions as part of National Adoption Day activities to more than 25,000.

Every year, in November, hundreds of judges, attorneys, adoption agencies, adoption professionals and child advocates volunteer their time to finalize adoptions of children from foster care and celebrate all families who adopt.

New York will host the national celebration as it has led the country with innovative and successful programs to promote foster care adoptions, annually completing about 5,000 of these adoptions throughout the state.

As one of the original National Adoption Day participating cities, New York will host the national press conference to address the state of foster care and national trends in foster care adoption. The press conference will begin at 9 a.m. in the ceremonial courtroom on the first floor of the Queens Family Court.

The press conference will be followed by the adoptions of 151 children from foster care into permanent, loving, forever families.

Participants include:
- Rita Soronen, Executive Director of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption and a founding sponsor of National Adoption Day
- Judge Joseph M. Lauria, Administrative Judge, New York City Family Court
- Ortiz-Torres-Fonseca, new adoptive family

"Today marks a milestone in America as we celebrate the over 3,500 children that will go home tonight with their forever families -- children who have waited for this moment in some cases for years. Our hearts are filled with joy for these children and for the power that this day has in raising awareness of the overwhelming number of children still waiting for a loving home," said Rita Soronen, Executive Director of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, a founding sponsor of National Adoption Day.

"We are honored that 25,000 children have now permanently joined families through our national celebrations. Experiencing the joy of National Adoption Day reminds us all of what we can accomplish and drives us further toward the goal of finding a home for every child."

"While we are first and foremost a Court of reunification, we are committed to permanency through adoption for our children and families when reunification is not appropriate. New York is proud to champion foster care adoption on National Adoption Day and every day throughout the year," said Judge Joseph M. Lauria, Administrative Judge of the New York City Family Court.

"In 2007, we finalized over 1,644 adoptions from foster care in our courts citywide, providing safe, loving and permanent homes for our deserving children. And, on National Adoption Day, we will be delighted that 151 more children who were waiting in foster care will go home knowing they are part of a permanent bond, knowing they have a family."

Right now, 129,000 children are waiting in the foster care system legally and permanently separated from their biological parents. Through no fault of their own, these children enter foster care because of abuse, neglect and/or abandonment. Unless they are connected with adoptive parents they will not only lose the opportunity for family joys as simple as Thanksgiving dinner, but they will also be at an increased risk for being undereducated, unemployed, homeless and/or involved in substance abuse or criminal activity.

Since 1987, the number of children in foster care has nearly doubled, and the average time a child waits for an adoptive family is more than three years. Many move to different families more than three times while in the system and are separated from siblings. Each year, nearly 26,000 of these youth will just end up leaving the system when they turn 18 with no family to support them in the future.

The National Adoption Day Coalition works tirelessly throughout the year with hundreds of communities and thousands of volunteers to dispel the myths about adopting from foster care and to raise awareness about the 129,000 children in need of adoptive families. The day also builds collaboration among local adoption agencies, courts and advocacy organizations and communicates the availability and need for post-adoptive services.

In Syracuse, New York, the Fifth Judicial District and Onondaga County will be hosting its largest National Adoption Day Celebration ever. Local Adoption Agencies as well as Onondaga County Department of Social Services will be on hand to provide information with regard to becoming Foster Parents as well as adopting. Following the ceremony, the private adoptions will take place with gift bags going to the children being adopted.

National Adoption Day is sponsored by a coalition dedicated to improving the lives of children, including The Alliance for Children's Rights, Casey Family Services, Children's Action Network, The Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption and the Freddie Mac Foundation.

The Fostering Connection (TFC)

The Fostering Connection is a New York City program that offers lifelong therapy to current and former foster children for free. For more information, please call 212-255-8895.

This organization has been facilitating effective, long-term relationships between foster care youth and alumni and professional therapists in the New York area since 2001.

The Fostering Connection (TFC) evolved from a New York social action project called The Children’s Psychotherapy Project. TFC incorporated as a 501(c)3 nonprofit in 2004.

To continue providing services, The Fostering Connection relies on the generous contributions of foundations, corporations and individuals, as well as their volunteers.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Times Square Vigil Focusing on Homeless Youth

Press Release: Plight of Homeless Youth Will be Focus of Nov. 20 Times Square Vigil
Nov. 12, 2008

NEW YORK-- Covenant House International is releasing its First Annual Report Card on the US Homeless Youth Crisis, and gives a bleak outlook for their future. America's kids in crisis will be the focus of the 18th Annual Candlelight Vigil for Homeless Youth on Thursday, November, 20, 5:30 pm, in Times Square.

"Over 750,000 young people in the US are living and dying on our streets every year. We were able to help 70,387 homeless youth last year, 7% more than the year before, but this is still not enough, more needs to be done by all of us," explains James White, interim president and chief operating officer for Covenant House International, the largest privately funded agency in the Americas helping homeless kids.

"Our First Annual Report Card on the US Homeless Youth Crisis finds that the number of homeless and impoverished youth is growing and their outlook is bleak," says White. The report card examines 11 key indicators affecting children, including: population growth, poverty rates, employment opportunities, high school drop-out rates, health coverage, dental health, the foster care system, juvenile justice, arrests, substance use and death rates.

"18- to 24-year-olds make up the highest percentage of individuals living in poverty and they are twice as likely to be unemployed. Many of these kids are aging out of foster care at rates 30% higher than we typically see," says White adding, "One-third of the homeless kids helped by Covenant House come directly from foster care. The rest come from environments of abuse, neglect and other at-risk situations."

According to information gathered by Covenant House, once a kid becomes homeless, that youth is at a much greater risk for becoming incarcerated. The number of recent arrests of 18- to 24-year-olds has increased for prostitution (17%), drug violations (19%), weapons charges (25%) and vagrancy (28%). These kids also are at much greater risk for premature death by homicide or suicide. 5,000 homeless youth die from assault, illness and suicide each year.

"We want people to be outraged by this bleak situation. We want them and our nation's leaders to change this situation. It can be done. At Covenant House we've been changing the lives of homeless kids for 35 years by giving them guidance, transitional housing, healthcare, education and job training. Many of our kids go from the streets to college. They are good kids who have had some rough breaks in life and now just need a chance to help themselves," says White.

Homeless youth being helped by Covenant House will be telling their stories and performing with Broadway stars at the 18th Annual Candlelight Vigil for Homeless Youth on Thursday, November, 20, 5:30 pm, in Times Square.

Additional vigils will be held at other Covenant House sites, churches, colleges and via the Virtual Candlelight Vigil Web site:

The Times Square Vigil will be hosted by Sunny Cummings Hostin, CNN Legal Analyst & Managing Director at Kroll Inc., a private investigation and security firm. The vigil also will feature: Jim White, Bruce Henry, executive director of Covenant House Institute, and Broadway stars Lawrence Clayton (Bells Are Ringing, It Ain't Nothin but the Blues, The Civil War, Once upon a Mattress, High Rollers Social Pleasure Club, and Dreamgirls) and Capathia Jenkins (Fame Becomes Me, Look of Love, Caroline or Change, and Civil War).

Nasdaq and Reuters will air vigil graphics while ABC will air the vigil live on their Times Square jumbotrons during the event. MTV and Invision will create a live Internet feed for the vigil.

Founded in 1972, Covenant House International is the largest privately funded agency in the Americas helping homeless kids, providing 24/7 crisis care and ongoing support at 21 facilities, NINELINE (1-800-999-9999) and