International adoption agency seeks Pa. families
By Wayne Witkowski
Community News Editor
Kidsave, a nationwide organization whose mission includes finding adoptive parents for elementary school-aged children from Colombia, is preparing for its summer program and is receptive to opening a community chapter in Pennsylvania.
"This is not an adoption agency. We just bring the kids over and then if people want to adopt, they can go through an adoption agency," said northern New Jersey resident Cathee Gelman, community coordinator for the tri-state region of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
There is one family from eastern Pennsylvania that Gelman said is part of the Washington D.C.-Virginia coverage. There also are communities in New England and northern and southern California with a new one organizing in Florida.
More than one option
Kidsave also runs a "Family Visit Model" program for Russian orphans who stay with host families within that country. And a new program in Sierra Leone providing needed medical care for orphans there.
Under the "Summer Miracles" program for children from Colombia, American families host children ages 8 to 13 and can either advocate for their adoption or, if they decide, move forward with their own adoption of that child. Those children stay with a host family in the United States in July for a month.
The children are not told that they may be adopted, said Gelman, but are told it's a fun, summer vacation visit to the U.S. Colombia pays for the transportation for the child, but the host family would house and feed the child and take them to events, similar to an exchange student arrangement.
Host families pay the agency a fee. Background checks are required.
The program brings 80 Colombian children in the "Summer Miracles" program to various Kidsave communities. The summer program, this year, is completed and not accepting any other families.
There is a winter program, said Gelman, that is much smaller and more expensive to host.
She said Pennsylvania families are welcome to get involved. A coordinator would be named, who may or may not live in the state.
Spreading the word
"Kidsave is very well known in certain areas, and I would like to see Pennsylvania involved," Gelman said. "In this area, it is surprising not well known and there are so many different types of families here."
Check the web site
Kidsave.org where prospective hosts can fill out a family packet and, if approved, will be directed to the community chapter in their area. Families also can send an email to Gelman at catheeg@Kidsave.org.
"That's what this is about, giving these kids a chance," said Gelman, who also has an adopted 12-year-old child. "Our goal is to get people to meet kids. It's harder to adopt when they get older."
Gelman said there is no obligation for a host family to adopt, but those families are expected to advocate for that child's placement in a loving home.
The childrens' stories
On the Kidsave web site mission state for Colombian children states, "There are countless children in orphanages in Colombia who have lost parents due to civil conflict and HIV/AIDS, while others are abandoned due to extreme poverty, parental drug abuse or arrest. Still others are left without homes and parental care after serving time as child combatants.
"Most of these children have little hope for adoption, because they are 'older' (more than 6 years old). Exacerbating the problem is the stigma that Colombian society assigns to these children and Colombia adoption. Colombia kids in orphanages are emancipated from the child welfare system at age 18. Most leave the orphanages in Colombia without a high school education, unable to support themselves and with no caring adult to guide them."
In that case, they sadly become a neglected ward of the state, a worse scenario for impoverished countries.
It's also a sad story for Russian orphans as Kidsave's web site reports, "In Russia, every year about 130,000 children are registered as orphans due to death or abandonment by their parents, or because they have been removed from their homes for their own protection.
While some are moved to the care of relatives, nearly 200,000 orphans are currently growing up without families in state institutions.
"In 2001, Kidsave launched its first in-country program in the Smolensk region of Russia, giving more than 1,000 Russian orphans visits with Russian families during the summer, holidays and weekends. These visits allowed the children to experience family life, and gave host families the chance to get to know the children in a comfortable environment," the website states.
Of that group, 477 moved out of orphanages and into families. Another 220 stayed connected with families who continued to mentor them, while the children remained living in the orphanage, the site reports.
In this case, it became a fortuitous move when Russia recently closed international adoptions to the U.S.
Most families who adopt Colombia orphans who come to the U.S. in the Kidsave program are the ones who host them.
Deciding to adopt
Once adopting families begin the process, Gelman said many states (including New Jersey) require a certified homestudy by a licensed social worker to go with a federal background check and a series of recommendations from many designated individuals. These people could include friends, a religious leader, an attorney and others. Colombia may come back with additional questions to some adoption applicants.
Families must have the financial resources, Gelman said. "You have to make sure you can support the child. The adoption process is very expensive."
But she also said it is rewarding for her and for the adopting families who are able to rescue a child from an uncertain and dubious future.