LOOKING FOR A HOME
TWO-THIRD OF MISSISSIPPI CHILDREN AVAILABLE FOR ADOPTION ARE AFRICAN-AMERICAN
By Cynthia M. Jeffries
Often, when Andromeda Ward looks at her 7-month old son, Adam Joseph, she simply smiles.
“I can’t help but smile because everything I’ve asked the Lord for I see when I look at this child,” the 31-year-old mother said.
Adam joined Andromeda and Jimmy Ward five months ago when they adopted him. The Wards are among a small group being heavily sought by state and private agencies – black families willing to adopt.
In Mississippi, nearly 70 percent of all children available for adoption are African-American. But more than 80 percent of the families on waiting lists for a child are white.
Though there is no criterion that says a black child cannot be adopted by a white family, most of the white families who are applying prefer to adopt a same-race child.
The lack of black families coming forward to adopt has landed several children in the state-supported foster-care system, sometimes for years, and without a permanent, stable home.
“I might get four or five calls a week from a white couple who wants to adopt, but I’ll get one or two a month from a black family,” said Nancy Miller, adoption coordinator for Mississippi Children’s Home in Jackson, one of the agencies that actively recruits black couples as parents.
All told, there are more than 440,000 children in foster care nationwide. Of those, fewer than 1 percent, or about 20,000, are available for adoption. And among the nation’s adoptable children, 44 percent are white and 43 percent are black.
According to the 1990 census, blacks account for 12 percent of the more than 250 million people in the United States, while whites account for about 85 percent.
In Mississippi, there are more than 3,000 children in foster care. The state pays $225 to $300 per child per month to keep a child in the foster care system.
Why not adopt?
The lack of black families willing to adopt is not a problem limited to Mississippi. National figures show nearly 70 percent of parents who are adopting are white as well.
One social worker said one reason more blacks might not adopt is that some black men feel they must produce their own child.
Other reasons for the lack of black adoptive families are varied.
Adoptive parent Linda Hall of Verona said some people may not want to take care of “someone else’s” child. “All children need to be loved,” said Hall, 41, who adopted her daughter, 11-year-old Diedra, years ago.
To Hall, Diedra is her daughter. She looks like her mother and acts like her. Diedra’s teachers are often surprised when she tells them she’s adopted.
Andromeda Ward said cost could be a hindrance for some people who might otherwise adopt.
Adoptions handled by a state organization require that the parent pay attorney and court fees. The adoption process can cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to thousands, depending on the attorney fees. Private adoptions are usually more costly, averaging anywhere from $450 to $25,000. Many private adoption agencies base their fees on the family’s income.
And while childbirth is often covered by medical insurance, adoption is not.
What’s being done
Agencies have tried several measures to improve their pool of black families who want to adopt.
A news station in Jackson airs a segment each week called Wednesday’s Child in which adoptable children are shown in hopes of getting a permanent family.
The state has tried a program called “One-Church, One-Child,” which uses churches to try to recruit more prospective black families.
Also, each time a black family adopts a child, agencies ask them to use word of mouth to try to get more of their eligible friends to submit an application.
And some agencies have used newspaper advertisements.
Over the years, the number of white children available for adoption has dwindled. For one thing, more white and black teen-agers who get pregnant are opting to keep their children because social stigmas once associated with having a child out of wedlock are not as prevalent as they once were, Miller said. Also, the abortion rate has had an effect on the number of children available white and black.
In 1994, the latest statistic available, 3,979 abortions were done in Mississippi, according to the Department of Health Vital Statistics Unit. Of those, 1,414 were whites, 2,558 were non-whites and 7 were classified as unknown races. That is about one-third less the number of 1993 figures where 6,002 abortions were done – 2,425 were whites, 3,551 were non whites and 27 were of unknown races.
Placed in months
Unlike white adoptions, in which some families can wait 10 years or more for a child, a black child can be placed in a permanent home within months.
After filling out all of the paperwork, the Wards had their child within a month.
“Most pregnant women had nine months to prepare. I had one,” Ward said.
Mississippi could be considered a “friendly” state for potential adoptive parents. Here, once a mother relinquishes her parental rights, she is given 72 hours to change her mind. In Tennessee, a birth mother is given a two-week grace period, while in California, a birth mother is given six months to reconsider giving up her child.
Most of the children who are available through the state have been taken from their home because of neglect or abuse, consequently, most of them are at least first-graders or older. Rarely are infants available through the state.
The Wards, who have been married about six years, tried for several years to have a child. She tried fertility drugs, but to no avail.
Adoption is nothing new for Ward. Her parents adopted one of her brothers 15 years ago after raising him for a short while as their foster child.
“I can’t tell any difference. I don’t consider him my adoptive brother. To me, he’s just my brother,” Ward said. Ward said if she could, she would like to thank the woman who gave birth to her child.
Jimmy Ward, who is usually reserved and very professional, lights up when he talks about his son. He said he loves being a father and he loves his son even more.
“That man loves this child, do you hear me?” Andromeda Ward said.