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Fairfax Foster Children Ready for Homes

International organization turns to assist locally.

At 11-years old, Roosevelt is a shy child who loves Chinese food and sports. Dominique is a 16-year-old with a great sense of humor who loves basketball and music. Antonio is 14 years old and loves the Denver Broncos and Harry Potter. Devante, who is known as a “real sweetheart,” is an 11-year old who dreams someday of becoming a police officer because he wants to “protect people and keep them safe.”

As foster children in Fairfax County, these four have one thing in common:

They do not have a permanent home or family.

"We have about 25 to 30 children that we have no adoptive home identified for them," said Carolyn Fowler, Fairfax County program manager for foster care and adoption with the department of family services. "Usually 45 to 65 children are adopted each year."

WITH CHILDREN like Roosevelt, Devante, Dominique and Antonio in mind, the county's department of family services partnered with Kidsave International, a local non-profit organization, to help find permanent homes for children in the system who are older and typically harder to place.

"I think that there are probably a greater number of people in the community who want a younger child because they think they have a greater chance to guide the child," said Fowler as to why older children are hard to place.

Kidsave International President Terry Baugh first learned about the difficulties older orphans faced when she adopted her son from Russia.

Baugh learned the older orphans were more likely to end up on the streets by 15 years old, than in homes.

Since then, Baugh has successfully brought older orphans to America through the Summer Miracles program she created with the intent that host families and prospective parents will meet, fall in love and adopt the orphans.

Baugh has since expanded that concept to the local level with the Kidsave Fairfax Weekend Miracles program.

"Because of our experiences with the Summer Miracles program and the magic created," said Baugh, "we saw there was a real opportunity to get involved with the Fairfax County kids."

IN FAIRFAX COUNTY roughly 475 children do not have a home. After foster care, approximately 30 children a year leave the system without a family, and because they cannot be returned safely to their families, they have to wait for adoption, which, for many, never happens.

"Children in our locality who tend to wait the longest are generally nine [years old] or older and usually a child of color," said Fowler.

The weekend program allows for families to host these children, ages 6- to 18-years, for three months on the weekends.

"They're faceless kids to the public," said Baugh. "We thought our program could help add a face to these kids in the community."

As of June 30, 2004, the largest racial demographic of children who were up for adoption in Fairfax County was African-American at 69 percent with the second largest group being Caucasian at 16 percent.

"When they come into foster care, they are losing parents and siblings — many come in with siblings still at home," said Fowler about some of the emotional stresses on these children.

"We see a remarkable recovery, so to speak, in their emotional health and well being," said Fowler of the role an adult or family plays in these children's lives.

“Weekend Miracles works because of citizen involvement,” said Baugh. “It gives anyone with an interest in helping children, something they can do that really matters, that clearly improves these children’s lives.”

Because there were not local statistics for foster children once they leave the county's system, Kidsave International gave national numbers.

Nationwide, of the children who are not adopted, 66 percent have not graduated from high school, 33 percent will go on welfare and 25 percent will end up on the streets.

"Charity begins at home," said Carolyn Wyatt, Herndon resident, about Kidsave Fairfax. "Anything anybody can do to get kids in the United States that need to be adopted adopted is good."

Wyatt and husband Michael Moore adopted their now 14-year-old daughter through Fairfax County before Kidsave Fairfax had been created.

"We wanted a middle school aged child because we felt like that was the kind of time we had," said Wyatt. "We're very hopeful that we will be able to help her grow up."

BECAUSE THE PROGRAM is new, family services has been working with prospective children to prepare them for the program, as well as the roughly 200 parents who have been approved to work with the children.

"We want every kid who enters Fairfax County [family services] to be there for a shorter turn and come out with lasting adult relationships," said Baugh. "It will take time for the system to be built — we're going to start small but grow it."

Kidsave Fairfax is looking for more volunteers, host families, advocates, and adoptive parents. Those interested can contact Kidsave Fairfax Weekend Miracles at 703-683-KIDS, or on-line at www.kidsave.org.