Adoption creates what many keiki need -- ‘forever families’
Yesterday was National Adoption Day, and like so many other busy people I forgot to celebrate on time and sent in this commentary a little late. I forgot to recognize that special child and those special children all over Hawaii, the United States and the world who have become a part of a "forever family" through adoption. So, Happy Belated Adoption Day!
Every year on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, the National Adoption Day Coalition sponsors National Adoption Day to finalize the adoptions of thousands of children in foster care and to celebrate all families that adopt.
Yesterday, hundreds of courts and communities across the nation came together to finalize thousands of adoptions of children from foster care. The day brings together hundreds of judges, attorneys, adoption agencies, adoption professionals and child advocates who are dedicated to creating "forever families" for waiting children.
I feel especially obligated and privileged to write about Adoption Day for a couple of reasons. First the concept of a "forever family" is one at the very center of my own family. My wife and I adopted our daughter through an international adoption process more than five years ago. In fact, we were initially notified of the assignment and arrival into our lives of our daughter at just about this time of year, creating the best reason for giving thanks we have ever received.
The other reason to write about National Adoption Day is that on Oct. 6, I had the honor of representing Volunteer Legal Services Hawaii and its Project Visitation in Washington, D.C., to accept a Congressional Coalition Adoption Institute's "Angels in Adoption Award." Projection Visitation, or PV, was nominated for the award by Sen. Daniel K. Akaka.
The Angels in Adoption Program is CCAI's public awareness program, and it provides an opportunity for all members of Congress to honor the good work of their constituents who have enriched the lives of foster children and orphans. This program includes an annual event in Washington, D.C., the Angels in Adoption gala, which highlights ordinary people doing extraordinary things. These "unsung heroes" are selected by members of Congress.
In addition to these honorees chosen from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, "National Angels" are recognized for their adoption and foster care advocacy on a nationwide scale. Former national Angels include notables such as First Lady Laura Bush, Victoria Rowell, Muhammad Ali, Dave Thomas, Steven Curtis Chapman and Bruce Willis. Last year, more than 190 members of Congress participated, making it the year's single most significant congressional event pertaining to child welfare in the United States. With 222 members, the Congressional Adoption Caucus is the largest bipartisan caucus in Congress.
Akaka nominated Project Visitation in recognition of its work in bringing together siblings who have been separated in the foster care system all over Hawaii for regular family bonding activities. PV creates lasting memories and family bonds for sisters and brothers separated in foster care. It reunites brothers and sisters through volunteers by providing monthly visits in a safe, neutral environment, and PV serves to educate the public about sibling separation in the foster care system.
Nationally, of the 580,000 youth in foster care, 75 percent are separated from at least one sibling. When children are removed from their homes, the child welfare system focuses on rehabilitating the parents so the family can be reunited, but little attention is given to supporting the bond between siblings when decisions about placement of the children are made. According to the state Department of Human Services, 4,385 children in Hawaii were in foster care during 2006. If the national statistic holds true for Hawaii, 3,288 of these children are currently separated from their siblings.
Project Visitation is the result of a partnership between the Family Court and VLSH's Na Keiki Law Center. It is the realization of a vision for access to justice presented to the community by family court Judge Mark Browning.
After seeing the effects of sibling separation and experiencing the inability of the state's Child Protective Services to provide sibling visitations, Judge Browning planted the seeds, tilled the ground and continues to nurture what has become a national model of the impact of keeping kids together.
PV also sustains itself through the care and concern of dedicated volunteers, lawyers and nonlawyers, who constantly prove the reality of the words of anthropologist Margaret Mead: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." Happy Belated Adoption Day!
Wayne M. Tanna is professor of accounting at Chaminade University and a board member of Volunteer Legal Services Hawaii.