By Enrique Rangel
October 25, 2009 / lubbockonline
AUSTIN - Over the years a good number of childless American couples have traveled to China, Guatemala, Romania and other faraway countries to adopt a child.
But children in Texas' Panhandle and Southern Plains as young as a few weeks old and as old as 20 may wait three years to find families - longer than the state average of two years.
Data from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services shows that in 2008 there were 6,375 children waiting to be adopted in the state. Of those, 174 lived in Lubbock County, 64 in Randall County and 26 in Potter County.
Johana Scot doesn't like those numbers.
"The problem is that we take too many kids away from their homes," said Scot, executive director of the Parent Guidance Center, an Austin-based advocacy group.
Scot and other critics of Texas Child Protective Services believe the agency is too quick to remove children from their parents or other relatives if social workers suspect abuse or neglect.
More children would stay with families if social workers were to spend more time on child abuse prevention, Scot said.
Instead, "the Family and Protective Services are very adversarial in their approach," she charged. "They say 'we're going to take your kids away and terminate your parental rights.' They take the kid and ask questions later."
Social workers remove disproportionate numbers of non-white youngsters from families suspected of abuse or neglect, according to state records. The children wait longer to find new homes than white children, according to records.
Black and Hispanic children account for more than two-thirds of all Texas youngsters waiting for adoption, according to Family and Protective Services figures.
Half of the 174 children waiting for adoption in Lubbock County last year were Hispanic, even though the county's Hispanic population is 30 percent.
Statewide, a white child waits 28.7 months to be adopted while an African-American youngster waits 31.7 months and a Hispanic child 29.2 months.
Those figures don't surprise Richard Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, a nonprofit group in Alexandria, Va.
"Let's face it, the adoption process reflects the racial prejudices and biases in our society," Wexler said. "An African-American or a Hispanic child is more likely to be taken away from his or her parents than a white child. And when a white child is up for adoption he or she will find a home sooner than an African-American or a Hispanic child."
Regional CPS spokesman Greg Cunningham said the agency knows of the criticism that non-white kids are more easily removed from their homes than whites and is addressing the issue.
"We have developed a cultural awareness program and we have asked the communities to get involved," he said. "In Lubbock, we're having an office in a predominantly African-American area."
The agency also understands that racial prejudices and social biases play a major role in the adoption process, he said.
"We know that it's more difficult to find adoptive parents for minority children," Cunningham said.
But with the help of a three-year campaign called "Why Not Me?," the agency hopes to create awareness and make it easier for children waiting for adoption to find a home.
"We don't deny there is a problem and we try to fix it," Cunningham said. "And folks who criticize us, we ask them to get involved to be part of the solution."