INGLEWOOD, Calif. –Thousands of Black babies across the United States are in need of a home. According to Child Welfare Information Gateway, of the estimated 510,000 youngsters foster care in the U.S in 2006, 32 percent were African American. In Los Angeles County alone, 30 percent of foster care youth are Black, while African Americans only make up about 13 percent of county population.
An adoption agency in Inglewood is attempting to bring those numbers down and wants to see displaced children in loving homes.
Families for Children (FC) was established by Andrew and Terilyn Henderson in 1993 after the couple decided to become proactive community members.
“Our goal has always been to rebuild our community, one child, one family at a time,” Henderson said. “We’ve always been interested in doing something profound for our community, not only live our lives as spectators, but do something and leave a legacy.”
The couple now successfully places children–typically from infant to about 13-years-old–in safe, stable, nurturing families in the Los Angeles County. While the focus of the agency is largely on African American families and children, families of all kinds are welcome.
Why are the numbers so high? Henderson says Black children are disproportionately thrown into a malfunctioning foster care system.
“There are so many factors. I would say that a lot of it may have to do with culture. Over the years, poverty has been mistaken for neglect, when you have in fact very clean homes, clean children, very well cared for children that may be living in neighborhoods where it is subpar, or other risk factors that may not contribute to the healthy raising of a child,” Henderson said.
Other factors that have put Black kids in the system include unemployment, drug abuse, violence, and lack of resources. Typically, the children FC manages are those who have had challenging lives or have been abused or neglected.
Henderson also suggests that Black people have been predisposed to adoption due to historical oppression. It has become a part of African American culture.
“I took a look at how Africans were brought to America. When we hit these shores, our families were immediately destroyed. Our women were taking care of other children (slave owners’ and separated African children),” he said. “The men were oftentimes not present, because they were either dead or sold off. So our community kind of formed around the foster care dynamic. You fast-forward 500 years to now and some of the same elements are taking place. The Black male is still challenged to be a part of the family.”
How does it work? Families or individuals wishing to adopt or become a foster parent endure a screening process in which their criminal background is checked, an application is submitted, an interview is conducted, and a home visit is made. Unlike the vast majority of adoption agencies, FC does not give clearance to applicants with a criminal background, however the county requirements do not restrict all individuals with a criminal background.
Qualified families typically must have space in their home for a new individual; parents must demonstrate the emotional and psychological maturity to deal with the potential challenges that may be presented by the child or the foster care system. Also, an analysis of parenting style is also made to accurately match children to qualified parents.
What are the challenges? FC makes it as easy as possible for families and foster children to adjust to new settings and a stable home. Counseling, training, and support groups are available to families who are having a hard time. Before the adoption process begins, Henderson conducts an orientation, because he says adoption is not for everyone.
Biracial adoptions have also been a key issue in the foster care. Children who are not paired with families of the same ethnic background typically experience identity issues, especially in adulthood.
“There has been a lot of research and controversy about biracial adoption,” Henderson commented. “The challenge is the family needs to stay connected to the child’s culture.”
He says in his experience, adults in their 30s, 40s, and 50s who were adopted by ethnically diverse families are coping with identity and culture issues. He says parents need to understand the significance of a child’s culture for not only self-awareness, but survival.
More often than not, adopted children experience a desire to know their biological parents. There is nothing wrong with a child wanting to know his or her parents, as long as circumstances are safe.
“Research shows, if you can keep a child connected with biological parents, they do much, much better in adolescence. No matter how good the home is, the children have a profound desire to seek out biological families. When they are denied that, they have adjustment issues,” Henderson explained.
While adoption is not an easy decision, FC is patient with children and parents. The need is dire, but placing children in the right home is at the top of the agency’s list. Each Wednesday at 10 a.m. FC holds an orientation at 2500 West Manchester Blvd., Inglewood for anyone who is considering adoption. More information about the program is available at www.familiesforchildren.org or call (323) 750-5855 ext. 101.