White House Promotes Adoption through Religious Groups, Other Nonprofits


By: Anne Farris
The Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare Policy

The efforts of religious and other nonprofit adoption advocates were highlighted by federal officials last week, in the latest of a series of events sponsored by the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.

The event focused on domestic and international models for meeting the needs of orphans, foster children, and vulnerable children. It was held in conjunction with a proclamation by President George W. Bush designating November as National Adoption Month and coincided with a campaign launched by the Christian Alliance for Orphans called "Cry of the Orphan."

Jay Hein, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, wrote a letter last week thanking the Christian Alliance for Orphans, a collaboration of 80 Christian organizations, for the campaign.

"It is nothing less than faith expressing itself in vibrant love," he wrote.

There are about 143 million orphans worldwide, with 514,000 children in the United States foster care system, according to federal statistics. Christian organizations are among those working to move foster children into permanent homes, provide care for orphaned children internationally and adopt newborns as an alternative to abortion.

"God is raising up hundreds, thousands of local churches that are saying this: ‘We want to act on behalf of the orphan and the waiting child. This is in our DNA,'" said Paul Pennington, chairman of Christian Alliance for Orphans. "The Lord has brought about a movement to unify his followers in orphan ministry."

Christian organizations and leaders are urging churchgoers to consider adoption as a biblical calling and as part of a movement to prevent abortion. Some religious groups say only the church has enough outreach, resources, and people to adopt the growing number of orphans.

"Imagine if, because of this, every orphan knew someone who loved Jesus," the Cry of the Orphan campaign stated.

The active role of religious groups in adoption, and the government's encouragement of increased roles of religious groups, has prompted criticism from some observers. Other critics contend the promotion of adoption as a way to prevent abortions is overstated and misrepresented.

Last week's event was the 11th event in as many months hosted by the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives to highlight the work of religious organizations and encourage more collaboration between government and small nonprofits. The office was created by President George W. Bush in 2001 to promote partnerships between government and faith-based and community organizations to provide social services to America's needy.

Government officials at the White House event on Friday described funding, tax incentives and programs to encourage adoption and efforts to encourage states to create and sustain partnerships with religious organizations.

"The President understands that the government is limited in what it can do," Dan Schneider, an acting assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) told 150 people gathered for the White House event. "I am a proud government employee, but one thing we all understand is that government agencies are not created in God's image."

Schneider said private entities are an important tool in adoption advocacy.

"Agencies are not the people with the souls," he said. "We are institutional bureaucracies by definition. The president understands this. That is why he has worked so hard to incorporate the power of faith-based and community organizations like many of those here today so we can, in fact, achieve our success in increasing adoptions. The President understands that the frontline service organizations are not encumbered by the rules we have to live under. There are only certain things we can do…Private organizations can do anything they want. You all can fill in the gaps, and you do, and we need to partner with you to fill in those gaps."

The White House event also highlighted the work of Christian-based organizations whose primary ministry is adoption.

Chris Padbury, executive director of Project 1.27, a Denver-based group that derives its name from a Bible passage to "look after orphans and widows in their distress," said his job to facilitate adoptions of foster children is "a lifetime of passion for which I feel I was created."

The goal of Project 1.27 is to have all foster children in Colorado adopted into permanent homes by 2014. The state had 850 foster children when the project began in 2004. Now there are 762 foster children, he said. The project has agreements with Colorado counties to recruit and train foster and adoptive parents. It receives no reimbursement from the counties for that work.

Project 1.27 works with Sharen Ford, president of the National Association of State Adoption Programs and an adoption manager for the Colorado Department of Human Services who participated in the White House event.

"As part of government in Colorado and a representative of all the 50 states, we want to say yes to you. Yes, come sit at the table with us each and every day," Ford told the audience. "If you come and build a relationship with us, you'll find out we're not so bad after all. We want to take and use the things you have readily available to handle this in communities because that's where children come from. The children of family and child welfare services come from the very communities where your church, your synogue, your mosque is in. Government isn't big enough to do the job."

The event also featured the nation's largest adoption agency, Bethany Christian Services, a pro-life adoption and family service agency in 32 states and a dozen countries that receives $20 million a year in grants from federal, state and local governments. Among those grants is money provided by HHS for a public awareness program on embryo adoption and donation. The program encourages families to adopt or donate unwanted human embryos that are preserved through in vitro fertilization.

"Our heritage is about caring for children from the very beginning that are into that adoption process," said Marc Andreas, vice president of marketing for Bethany.

The event also featured a keynote address from Mexican actor and producer Eduardo Verastegui, who appears in a new film entitled "Bella." Verastegui described how his character in the film prevents an abortion through adoption, something he said he also did in his own life.

Critics have opposed the contention that adoptions can offset abortions. Cory L. Richards, a vice president at the Guttmacher Institute, said facilitating adoptions does not affect the abortion rate.

"(W)e know that very few women actually place their infants for adoption. In the United States, fewer than 14,000 newborns were voluntarily relinquished in 2003 (the latest year for which an estimate is available), according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services," Richards wrote last month in a newspaper editorial. "That proportion - just under 1% of all the children born to never-married women - has remained constant for almost two decades... The 2003 infant relinquishment figure is minuscule when compared to the almost 1.3 million abortions that took place that year. And even then, it would be wrong to assume that every one of those relinquishments actually averted an abortion. Many women placing their baby for adoption may never have considered abortion in the first place."

The federal government has invested increasing amounts of money and manpower in promoting adoption and collaborating with faith-based organizations to facilitalte their work. Numerous laws have been enacted since 2001 to promote adoption and care for foster children. The Adoption Promotion Act of 2003 authorized $43 million per year for incentives to states that increase adoptions from foster care. An adoption tax credit was increased since 2001 and the number of people receiving the credit increased 75 percent by 2005, according to government officials. They also said aid to help adoptive parents cover the cost of adoption increased from $90 million in 2001 to $320 million in 2005.

The government also created the Collaboration to AdoptUsKids in 2002 by entering a five-year agreement with the Adoption Education Association to recruit and connect foster and adoptive families with children. Melissa Pardue, a deputy assistant secretary at HHS, said AdoptUsKids also provides training and technical assistance to states and tribes to create partnerships with faith communities.

AdoptUsKids has helped with faith-based recruitment and support in eight states. For example, the Massachusetts Department of Social Services used AdoptUsKids training to form an interfaith coalition of faith-based organizations, the Maryland Department of Human Services had contracted with eight religious groups to run adoption support groups, and 57 churches in Hawaii are recruiting and training foster parents in four counties.

On an international level, data shows that more than 14 million children have lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) provided $5 billion in fiscal year 2006 for orphans and vulnerable children.

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