Celebrities Adopting

Yesterday, Jessica Alba appeared on ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.  The family featured, the Beach family, had adopted 8 children in addition to 4 biological children!  Father Larry Beach said, “No matter if you’re in a travel trailer or a big house like this, we all have one calling; we’re all special to God.  That’s why we search out children who otherwise wouldn’t have a home. That’s what we hope comes out of all this.  There are a lot of children out there. Maybe they’re not perfect in the world’s eyes, but they deserve a home as much as any child.”  So inspired by the Beaches, Alba went on to say that she plans to adopt herself.  Alba is currently a mom to her 2-yr-old daughter Honor Marie with husband Cash Warren.

Alba on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition

I wanted to highlight a couple other celebrities who have chosen adoption.  When these individuals speak out and share their adoption experience, families and individuals across the country are made aware the need for adoption and are shown that all it takes is for someone to step forward and want to make a difference in the life of a child.

Recently, Katherine Heigl and husband singer Josh Kelley adopted a daughter with special needs, Naleigh, from Korea.  Heigl has always known she wanted to adopt, and even approached the subject with her husband before they were engaged.  Heigl’s sister, Meg, is Korean, so the choice of where to adopt from seemed obvious.

Heigl with her husband and daughter

Just over a month ago, actor Willie Garson’s adoption of a 8-yr-old boy from foster care was finalized.  “From the first time I met him, I said, ‘That’s my kid.”  Garson met his son, Nathen, at an adoption fair in Los Angeles.

Garson with son, Nathen

While Nathen’s story has a happy ending, Garson commented on the older teens in foster care who were at that same adoption fair.  Their stories more often have a sad ending of aging out of foster care without ever being adopted.  Across the country, this is true for almost 30,000 youth each year.  Together, we can raise awareness about these youth, and dispel the negative myths about youth in foster care.  These celebrities are helping to show Americans that we can step up and make a difference.

All you need is love?

This Saturday, the state of California will begin limiting the number of children each foster family can have to 6 children total–whether they are foster, biological, and/or adopted children.  Officials hope this new limit will improve the quality of service children receive while in foster care.

Just yesterday we posted a news article detailing this change on our Facebook wall.  Already, there has been an outpouring of comments related to this significant change.  The comments received have been mixed–several who spent time in care themselves advocate this is a much-needed change, while others with personal experience provide opposing opinions.

The fact of the matter is that limiting the number of children in foster homes is not a new concept.  The National Resource Center for Family-Centered Practice and Permanency Planning looked into this issue and published a list by state of limitations on the number of children in foster homes.  Their most recent report shows that the majority of states also have a limit of 6 children total in homes.  While some state have limits as low as 4 or as high as 8 children, there are other requirements based on factors such as special needs or mental health diagnoses.

Recently, Florida was in the news after a 17-month old child died in a foster home due to overcrowding.  This led to the creation of a task-force to investigate foster homes with more than 5 children.

On the other side of the coin, we also cannot ignore that there is a severe gap in the number of children in care and the number of licensed foster homes across the nation.  Already, over 75,000 children currently in foster care live in group homes or institutions.  Research and common sense tell us that children need the structure and support that a family provides.  Recruitment is one topic CCAI will be exploring this year during a May Congressional briefing in celebration of National Foster Care Month.

What’s new with federal child welfare financing?

In November 2009, there were over 40,000 registered lobbyists in Washington, DC.  Not one of these lobbyists was working without a bias for children in need of families.  Unlike big industries with money, orphaned children do not have a voice on the Hill or a presence in DC.  This is exactly the reason CCAI exists.  We represent the needs of children by using our unique relationship with Congress to cut through the noise of many voices who seek federal policymakers’ ears to ensure that the needs of orphans and foster children are heard.

Yesterday, a member of our Advisory Board and longtime supporter of CCAI, U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) introduced a bill to use revenue from a new online gambling tax for foster care programs.  McDermott’s bill will be a companion bill to a bill that will legalize online gambling.  There are several other bills currently pending in Congress that address federal financing for foster care.

Just earlier this week, President Obama signed into law the health care legislation which includes an extension to the Adoption Tax Credit.  The Adoption Tax credit was originally set to expire the end of 2010, however, this new provision increases the tax credit from $12,170 to $13,170 for adoptions occurring after January 2010, and extends the tax credit to the end of 2011.  CCAI will be releasing a 411 Report on the history and future of Adoption Tax Credit next month to give more information on why it was introduced and how it is working.  Be sure to check our website for this report.

Another hot item related to child welfare financing is President Obama’s proposed FY 2011 budgetCWLA published a report to analyze how Obama’s proposed budget will impact federal financing of child welfare programs and services.

CCAI continues to monitor legislation that will impact foster care and adoption, as well as provide education and resources to policy makers as they work to introduce and pass legislation that will affect vulnerable children around the world.

Counting down to ‘FYI Season’

It’s no secret around here that summer is one of the most exciting and favorite times for CCAI.  With our programs in full swing, and almost as many interns as staff members, there’s a certain energy in the office that cannot be matched.

Now, those of us in DC are finally putting away our winter coats, driving around with our windows rolled down, and anxiously awaiting the cherry blossoms‘ peak bloom.  But we think what’s even more exciting  is that in just 2 months the 2010 FYI Class will be ascending on DC to start this year’s FYI program.

Picture of the 2009 FYI Class taken during the retreat to Danville, PA

Just earlier this week one of our FYIs from last summer called the office.  We’re privileged to not only share a life-changing  summer with these interns, but to also be included in their lives months and years after they return to their homes.  John Paul said something to us so touching that I asked him if I could share his thoughts.  I believe his words are powerful and speak to the influence of the FYI program much better than any CCAI staff member ever could.  John Paul said,

John Paul, left
‘When I came to the FYI program, it was different.  I had never experienced a program for former foster youth that treated us like capable adults or expected us to be able to surpass our peers.  Chelsea, Emily, Mark, Rebecca, and Kathleen pushed us and encouraged us when times got hard.  My supervisor from last summer and I still talk to each other and have lunch together when I visit DC. During the FYI program, I learned so much about myself and my abilities that I have been able to push pass the fear that I might not be good enough for the real world.  Every time things start to get hard or I start doubting that I can do something, I just remember the experiences I had with the FYI program and how I could do things I never thought I’d be able to do.  I got the opportunity to do something that so few people my age get to do, let alone former foster youth.  Without the FYI program, I know that I would never be aware that I could be as good as anyone else, if not better.’

Please continue to check back as we continue to prepare for the arrival of 12 extraordinary students who will soon be making their way to DC to forever impact the lives of foster children as they too are forever changed.

An Intern’s Perspective: Inside CCAI

This week marks the beginning of my third month as an intern at the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.

When I first began working here in mid-January, I knew exactly what I hoped to gain from my internship—work experience, exposure to federal policy, and a better understanding of the international adoption process that brought my cousin to the United States last year. However, I wasn’t really sure what would be expected from me. Coming into my internship, I had some knowledge of CCAI and its activities, but only a vague image of the role that I would play in the organization. Part of me was afraid that I would spend the entire spring doing menial tasks.

It didn’t take long for that to change. Within my first week on the job, I was taking notes at a State Department briefing on the state of intercountry adoptions in Haiti. Since then, I have done everything from updating the CCAI website, to researching pending foster care legislation for our bimonthly newsletter. A couple of weeks ago, I was on the phone all day alerting members of congress about an opportunity to sign on to a letter concerning adoptions from Nepal.

Of course, that isn’t to say that I don’t do my fair share of clerical work. As one of only two interns in the office, I spend a lot of time doing things like entering people into our database, editing spreadsheets, and answering the phone.

But while I used to think that stuffing envelopes and making copies was nothing but busy work, that has changed in the time that I have spent at CCAI. No matter how many envelopes I stuff, or how many copies I make—I have never once felt like any of the work I do here is meaningless. We have such a small office that the impact of my work is readily apparent, and such a close-knit staff that it is always appreciated.

The view from behind my desk.

A lot of things have changed since I started working here, but my personal favorite change has been to the wall in front of my desk. Initially it was pretty boring to look at, but I have started to decorate it over the past few weeks. Each sticky note has some words of wisdom or inspiration passed on to me from a member of our staff. At the end of my internship, I hope that I can look up and see an entire wall filled with notes.

And, much like I can say now that CCAI is helping me to change my wall into something that I can enjoy looking at, I hope that I can someday look back and say that I helped them change the world into a place where more children and families can enjoy living.

CCAI Congratulates Sandra Bullock and The Tuohy Family on Movie, The Blind Side’s Success

Since November of 2009, millions of Americans have been flocking to the theater to see the Blind Side, a movie based on the inspiring real life story of NFL Player, Michael Oher, and his adoptive parents, Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy.  We were all thrilled to see the movies’ incredible success culminate last week in leading lady, Sandra Bullock’s, receipt of an Oscar for her portrayal of Leigh Anne Tuohy.    Last September,  CCAI had the great privilege of honoring Sean and Leigh Anne as one of three 2009 Angels in Adoption.  Having had the honor of spending two days with these real life heroes, I can say that the movie is but a glimpse of the incredible people that they both are.

The morning after the Oscars, Leigh Anne sat down with the Today show to discuss her reaction to “Sandy’s” big win.  Leigh Anne puts into terms what we all know to be true.  First, that we as a country cannot afford to continue and sit by while tens of thousands of children age out of a foster care system without ever having the promise of a permanent, loving family fulfilled.  As she so beautifully puts it, in doing so, we are taking the risk that the man or woman with the ability to cure cancer will instead get lost in a life on the streets. And her second point is equally powerful.   Making a difference in the lives of children in foster care is something we can all do something about.   Some of us may feel called to be a foster or adoptive parent to these youth.  Others may feel called to mentor them.  And others still may choose to use their voice to speak out on their behalf.  Whatever our calling might be, the important thing is that we step up and answer it.

It is my sincere hope that we have yet to see the real impact this movie has had on the minds and hearts of Americans.  It is my fervent prayer that the message of this movie inspires Americans to learn how they might make a difference in the life of a young person like Michael.  And in the meantime, CCAI will continue to use its voice to speak out for these amazing young people and the impact that having a loving family can have on their lives.