Friday, December 22, 2006

Wish there were more families like the Frenches in this world

Foster families account for almost all adoptions
Shalash Shalash. Lexington Herald-Leader, Nov. 2, 2005, Communities pg. D1.

Melissa and Daryl French never know how long they'll get to keep most of their children. Some stay with them for a few weeks, others a few months, and some stay forever.

As adoptive and foster parents, the couple have followed a trend in the last several years of adopting children they already had in their home in foster care. Like many parents, they don't immediately know whether the option to adopt certain children is even available.

"Really, you just put your heart on the line because you have these children in your home, and you're loving them and taking care of them, and you don't even know if you get to keep them or not," Melissa French said. "But it's so worth it."

In 2004, 89 percent of adoptions in Kentucky occurred through foster parents who adopt children already in their homes, said Maurine Critoph, a permanency specialist with the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. There were 724 adoptions recorded that year.

The trend can be attributed to a recent federal improvement plan in which foster cases are reviewed more quickly, speeding up the termination process for birth parents who don't follow state-ordered case plans, Critoph said.

Children in out-of-home care now have a higher chance of being adopted by their foster parents if they cannot be reunited with their birth families, said Diane Underwood, who supervises adoption and foster care for the Department of Community Based Services.

"Those adoptions are less traumatic for both the family and the child because they know each other before that time," she said.

In Kentucky, dual-certification for foster and adoptive care is often issued after background checks and extended training sessions for interested parents. Foster families may not adopt a child until the birth parents' rights are terminated.

Ultimately, the goal is to return children to their birth families, said Martha Vozos, internal policy analyst with the Division of Protection and Permanency. Birth parents' rights usually are terminated after 12 months if they fail to follow case plans.

Reasons for removing children usually include neglect or physical, sexual, drug or domestic abuse. Some children are simply medically fragile and need a home in which parents can fully care for them.

Foster parents are kept updated on the progress of birth parents and often ask for first consideration if the child becomes available for adoption, Vozos said.

"The majority of kids that come into foster care go home or to relatives," she said. "But foster families are usually willing to wait in case an adoption is possible."

For the Frenches, who have adopted three foster children and fostered about 20 others, their hearts and home are always open.

"It's like once we have a child in our home, if they don't go back, then we're going to keep them," Melissa French said. "They've already become part of our family."


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