News and Information from the National Court Appointed Special Advocate Association

Judge Gray

From the President

Adoption as a Means to a Permanent Family

Hon. Ernestine Gray
Orleans Parish Juvenile Court, New Orleans, LA, and
President, National CASA Association

It’s November as I write this, and our court just had its Adoption Day celebration this past Saturday. As I said at the opening of the event, adoption is the second most meaningful thing we do in the juvenile court for children and families. The first is clearly when we can return a child safely home. But when we cannot do that, the best we can do is create another family where children can be loved and nurtured. Adoption out of foster care is critical for children and needs the support of all civic-minded people.

During this economic downturn, I’m concerned that some people might say, “I can’t afford to adopt.” As they struggle to make ends meet, I hope all potential adoptive parents are aware that there are resources to help them take on the additional responsibility of a child. Adopting from foster care is affordable. As the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption points out, most child welfare agencies cover the costs of home studies and court fees as well as provide post-adoption subsidies. Thousands of employers—including the National CASA Association—offer financial reimbursement and paid leave for employees who adopt, and government tax credits are available to most families.

Left to right: Office of Community Services Adoption Specialist June Henderson, Hon. Ernestine Gray, new adoptive mother Charleen McKey with son Spurgeon Mark and attorney Shirley Francis

So many times, I’ve seen a CASA volunteer go to exceptional lengths to research or support a potential adoption or relative guardianship. There were a number of cases in my courtroom after Hurricane Katrina in which children were separated from their foster parents. Sometimes the volunteer found a relative who would be an appropriate placement for the child but who lived out of state. If the family services agency didn’t act quickly, the advocate made sure that the process kept moving and in the meantime promoted opportunities for children to visit their relatives.

One case from that time period involved an issue being raised about the fact that a potential adoptive mother was over 55. There was a threat to move the child into another foster-adopt home. The CASA volunteer was incensed, pointing out to the family services agency, “This baby is bonded to this lady, who is taking good care of her. You absolutely cannot change!” In fact the agency made a mistake in this case and didn’t ask the right questions. Once again, the CASA volunteer made extraordinary efforts that resulted in a successful adoption.

Even more detrimental than writing off older parents is giving up on our older youth. There’s a tendency to believe that younger children are “more adoptable.” I don’t think we should ever close that opportunity for young people. I’ve known of cases in which youth are adopted at 17 or 18. Why wouldn’t we advocate for that? Is anyone ever “too old” to have a family? We should work just as hard as we do for the babies to ensure that youth on the verge of aging out of the child welfare system be given the opportunity to become part of a family. It’s just as important to them.

Another issue that is particularly troubling to me in our state is when parental rights are terminated and siblings are broken up into multiple adoptive families. These young people then have no right to visitation with their brothers and sisters. This fact makes it imperative to do whatever we can to place sibling groups together in a family that is considering adoption.

Finally, we need to do a better job of actively recruiting foster and adoptive parents. We should no longer be ruling out whole classes of people, like those who are single, gay, over 55 or living with a disability. Such exclusion just doesn’t make sense when someone commits to providing a safe, loving home for a child. Who are we to say—we who already have homes and families—that a child shouldn’t have a family because we don’t find it “perfect”? If someone is willing to be trained and go through a background check and home study process, we need to look seriously at that potential adoptive parent. We should think long and hard about broad restrictions because we have so many children in foster care who need a permanent home.

With the continued advocacy of our CASA volunteers, I look forward to having even more to celebrate when National Adoption Awareness Month comes around again next November.

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