JACKI LYDEN, host:
In the United States, there are generally more families that want to adopt children than there are newborns available. But the opposite is true for foster children. The government estimates some 115,000 kids in foster care are now ready and waiting to be adopted.
Evangelical Christians have taken up this problem, and are promoting a nationwide movement to eliminate the backlog of children waiting for permanent homes.
From member station KRCC in Colorado Springs, Eric Whitney reports.
ERIK WHITNEY: This is the third year that evangelical leaders have convened an Orphan Care and Adoption Summit. The last two drew about a 100 people combined. But this year, it's being hosted by Focus On The Family, one of the biggest evangelical ministries in the world, at its sprawling campus at the foot of the Rocky Mountains.
(Soundbite of summit speech)
WHITNEY: Attending are more than 500 people, mostly clergy, and staff and volunteers for Christian adoption agencies and support groups. Their goal is to get every Christian church in America to do something to help kids without families, either overseas or domestically.
At a press conference, Paul Pennington of the FamilyLife Ministry says a big part of the domestic effort is connecting churches with state foster care systems.
Mr. PAUL PENNINGTON (Director, FamilyLife Ministry): Child Reach Out for Fort Lauderdale in Florida has partnered with the state to try and deal with the children in foster care there. They have 120 families in one church. They're on standby to be foster care parents as kids are bound in the custody by the state.
WHITNEY: That's a big deal because it's not easy to get families, even those who want to adopt, to consider taking in a foster kid. Beyond the issues of the kids' often-troubled backgrounds, Pennington says many Christians won't approach a stated option agency because they don't trust secular authorities.
Mr. PENNINGTON: Because of cultural tensions in this country, when Christian families have an opportunity to have home studies, to give the training with a Christian-based agency that encourages them to be more open in terms of considering a child in the foster system.
WHITNEY: Another barrier to church groups' working with states on adoption, are policies some states have that require private adoption agencies taking staking state funding to place kids with any qualified family, including those headed by same-sex couples. New pilot projects in Florida, Texas and Colorado are skirting that issue by leaving placement to the states, and focusing instead on projects that prepare Christian families to adopt foster children.
States are always looking for qualified foster families and churches would like for them to have lists of Christian families ready to take in kids.
Ms. SHARON FORD(ph) (Colorado Adoption Agency): If you want a co-partner with the state of Colorado, come on. I'm ready. Let's get at it.
WHITNEY: Sharon Ford oversees adoptions for Colorado. Many state adoption agencies, which are typically overburdened and understaffed, are welcoming all the outside help they can get. She told those at the conference that she thinks faith groups and the state can overcome trust issues to achieve common goals.
Ms. FORD: There are places where we come together, and we need to sit down and be willing to talk about where we come together.
WHITNEY: Church leaders say they're ready to play a more collaborative role with state adoption and foster care authorities. But first, they have to motivate their millions of rank and file members across the country to recommit to helping kids without parents.
Mr. RICK WARREN (Pastor, Saddleback Church; Author, "The Purpose-Driven Life"): Nobody has cared for more orphans than the church. Nobody even comes close.
WHITNEY: Pastor and best-selling author, Rick Warren, the star speaker this year, said evangelicals could wipe out the backlog of foster kids awaiting adoption in America in a couple of years that they mobilize, and then they can help the estimated 150 million kids around the world without parents.
Mr. WARREN: Now, these problems are so big, everybody's failed at them - the United Nations, the United States. Only one thing big enough in the world to solve these problems is the massive distribution network called the church of Jesus Christ.
WHITNEY: Evangelical leaders say their push to reenergize the church around adoption has nothing to do with politics. They say it's all about trying to solve a global crisis. But they also recognized that launching this campaign stands to burnish the church's image.
For NPR News, I'm Eric Whitney in Colorado Springs.
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