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FRANK STASIO, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Frank Stasio in Washington, sitting in for Neal Conan.

When it comes to caring for our children, America has a dark side. There are over half a million children in foster care in this country, and states across the nation are struggling to provide them with safe and stable homes. Many of these young people suffer from serious mental and emotional problems because of abuse and neglect, and they spend years bouncing from one home to another. Experts agree adoption offers the best hope for these kids, but the process for getting kids out of foster care and into adoptive homes is a slow one. While some progress has been made, still more foster children are available for adoption than ever before, and the system isn't keeping up. So today, we pose questions to the experts and to you. Are you in the process of adopting a child from the foster care system? Have you ever tried or thought about adopting a foster child? We want to hear from you about your experiences or maybe questions you have about the process. Our number in Washington, (800) 989-8255; (800) 989-TALK. E-mail address is totn@npr.org.

Joining us now is Jeff Katz. He's a senior fellow at the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, and he conducted a recent survey on the barriers willing parents can face when they try to adopt a child out of the system, and he joins us from member station WBUR in Boston.

Jeff, thanks for being with us.

Mr. JEFF KATZ (Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute): A pleasure to be here, Frank.

STASIO: What did your study look at?

Mr. KATZ: We looked at families adopting children from foster care, what we called general applicant adoptions. Eighty percent of kids in the United States who are adopted from foster care are adopted by their foster parents or by relatives. What we were interested in is what's known as general applicants. If one of your listeners calls up their local child welfare agency and says, `I'm interested in adopting a child,' the main thing we wanted to see was--we thought of it as a funnel. How many people actually make that very first phone call expressing interest in adopting, and then how many actually make it to the end and adopt children and what causes the attrition?

STASIO: What did you find?

Mr. KATZ: Well, there is actually a great demand for children in foster care. We documented over 240,000 phone calls from people to their public child welfare agency, inquiring about adopting a child from foster care. That's at one end of the funnel. At the other end of the funnel, somewhere in the neighborhood of maybe 15,000 families actually do adopt a child from foster care. So there is a--you know, it's a steep funnel. There are a lot of people who express interest and don't follow through. And we looked at why that might be. We did focus groups, we did case record reviews. This was the largest study of its kind ever done. It involved Harvard University, the Urban Institute, Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute funded by Packard Foundation. This is a pretty thorough study.

STASIO: You know, before we get into the details of what you found and why there is this block somewhere in the system, does it vary from state to state? Are some states, you know, sort of better than others?

Mr. KATZ: Absolutely. Absolutely. The United States does not have one child welfare system.

STASIO: Right.

Mr. KATZ: It has hundreds. You know, every state has a child welfare system, and many states are divided into counties, and that was one of the things we found is the huge array of ways that states approach the problem. One of the things was screening vs. recruitment. Every agency has to recruit families to adopt children of foster care and they have to screen out people who don't have the wherewithal to adopt a child from foster care. A child has certain challenges and people just--you don't meet legal requirements.

But some states really focus on screening out rather than screening in. In one state we spoke with, they--if you called up for information, said, `Hi. I'm interested in finding out whether I might want to adopt a child,' you have to fill out a two-page form that asks very personal questions: your income, who do you live with, what do you spend your money on, how long have you been at your job. That's just to get information. If you say, `Well, OK, I'm interested,' and they approve you to go to the information meeting, believe it or not, the very first thing somebody says to you in this information meeting, when the group is finally assembled is, `We're going to do the fingerprinting in the front of the room.' And so you have to get up, go to the front of the room and be fingerprinted in front of 30 total strangers. That is where focus is more on screening than recruitment. And others...

STASIO: I'm guessing this is a place where you found the biggest drop-off as well.

Mr. KATZ: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.

STASIO: Yes. Well, you were going to compare that to another state, so go ahead and do that.

Mr. KATZ: Well, in another state, they view--their primary focus is recruitment and they sort of backload the screening, so when somebody calls for information, they say, `Great. We're having an information meeting. You can go on our Web site and find out what the requirements are, but we really want you to come to the information meeting and here's where it is.' When you go to the information meeting, the focus is on the children. `You know, these are the children who need families. Thank you so much for coming. You know, these kids need families and you're answering the call.' They approach it as--you know, the focus is on recruitment and it's community education.

One of the things we found in our study is that the biggest determinant of whether somebody was going to pursue the process--you know, make that first phone call--was personal experience. And people who had--you know, my sister adopted. This guy I worked with adopted a child, and it worked out pretty well, so, you know, my wife and I are thinking about it and you pursue it. And so in a state that views it as recruitment, they're saying that 20 people go to a meeting that maybe won't adopt, but they leave and they tell everybody they know, `I had a good experience. This wasn't for me, but there are these kids and they're nice people who--you know, and you should go do this,' as opposed to somebody who goes into--you know, and is fingerprinted before anyone says hello to them.

STASIO: I'm talking with Jeff Katz this hour, senior fellow at the Evan B. Donaldson Adoptive Institute. We're talking about the bottleneck in foster care, getting kids from the foster care system into adoptive homes. The number to call if you want to join the conversation, (800) 989-8255. If you had experience trying to adopt, are you a foster child yourself, or are you in the foster care system, give us a call at (800) 989-TALK. Or you can send us an e-mail at totn@npr.org.

Jeff Katz, what about this--the bottleneck itself? Is this a question of prospective parents dropping out, or is it just taking way too long to get parents--you know, get kids into their home?

Mr. KATZ: It's a combination. It's been my experience in this project, which is my personal experience, that there are a lot of families who are just very interested in adopting and struggle with the process. They aren't responded to quickly, there's a lot of negativity in the system. You know, child welfare agency--a lot of what they do is investigate abuse, so when somebody comes to them and says they'd like to adopt a child, unfortunately, too often the response is, `Well, why? Why would you want to do that?' And it's not an equal relationship. Many people approaching adoption really, really, really want to do this--issues in fertility or just altruism. People want to adopt a child, and then they find the system is not really welcoming them, and it creates some real ill will. The first call can be a total disaster. When somebody works up the courage after maybe--you know, they're 40 years old and their life plan was to be married and have kids at 25 and here they are 40, and they're making this call and saying, `I'm interested. I want to find out about adopting,' and, `Oh, well, you want a baby. We don't do babies here. Goodbye.' And so people are turned off.

STASIO: They're turned off and then they don't come back. (800) 989-8255 if you want to talk with my guest Jeff Katz, senior fellow at the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, who did a study on why foster children remain in foster care for so long and aren't in the homes of adoptive parents. Lisa is on the line from Phoenix. Hello, Lisa.

LISA (Caller): Yes. How are you?

STASIO: I'm fine. How are you doing?

LISA: Fine. Thank you.

STASIO: Do you have a question for us?

LISA: No, I just had a comment. I do work for the system in foster care, and we do--it's very difficult the process, the application, the paperwork, and it makes it very unappealing for people that want to help to raise these children.

STASIO: But let me ask you a question, Lisa. I mean, part of the reason for that, it seems to me, is to protect the child. Many of them have already come out of abusive situations, now we're being intentional about placing them. We need to be careful, don't we?

LISA: Yes, we do, but sometimes we go to the screen in the sense of the process, the applications, the paperwork. We need to cut down on the paperwork and get to the fingerprinting and the background check. That should be very sure and fast.

STASIO: Thanks for your call, Lisa.

LISA: You're welcome.

STASIO: Jeff, did you have...

Mr. KATZ: The irony of the system is that there are children in foster care saying, `Nobody wants me,' and there are parents walking away from the process saying, `Why won't they return my phone calls?'

STASIO: Well, is Lisa right? Are we going too far--clearly, there are obstacles and part of it is the paperwork, but have you found examples of places where they seem to get the right balance?

Mr. KATZ: Oh, yeah, absolutely. You know, this isn't rocket science. What we're talking about is sort of doing the welcoming up-front; it's customer service. You know, every state--I think every state needs to have some process in place where they are getting feedback from their customers, where you do surveys with families. 'Cause families can't say while they're in this process--you know, they can't say to the person who has the power to give them a child or not, `Well, you know, I'm mad at you. You're not really treating me well.' But, you know, most ventures in this country, most businesses have some way of getting feedback and honest feedback, so we're hoping that states will really begin a process to, you know, do surveys with prospective families and just find out how is the system working for families that are interested in adopting.

STASIO: Let's go to the lines. Mark is on the line from Jacksonville. Hello, Mark.

MARK (Caller): How you doing?

STASIO: Good.

MARK: I just wanted to make a quick comment. We adopted our son--this was about four years ago now, and I understand the system's changed a little bit, and this is the state of Florida, and they've privatized the system a great deal, but we had such a bad experience--you know, thank God we eventually got our son and it's been a wonderful experience, but we were so turned off by the system that we decided to adopt again and we did not even consider the state adoption agency at all because they just put us through--like you said, it was almost like a Marine Corps recruiting experience--`Maybe you are good enough to be an adoptive parent,' not, `Oh,' you know, `welcome. Let's see what we can do to get you a child.' It was very adversarial, it was demeaning, it was, you know, every six weeks you were--you know, the woman that you were dealing with quit or was reassigned, and you know, it was just horrible and it was...

STASIO: Mark, I tell you what. We appreciate your call and we're going to talk more about the frustrations of adopting out of foster care and take your calls at (800) 989-TALK when we return.

I'm Frank Stasio. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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STASIO: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Frank Stasio in Washington, sitting in for Neal Conan, talking this hour about how the state of foster care is in America--foster care systems help or hinder adoptive parents.

And you're invited to join that discussion. We want to hear from people involved in the foster care system, if you were a foster child yourself, if you tried to adopt, or if you're working in the foster care system in any of the counties across the country. Give us a call at (800) 989-TALK. Our e-mail address, totn@npr.org. Jeff Katz is with us. He's a senior fellow at the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. He did a survey, a report on what the problems are to find out how difficult it is, and joining us now to talk about the problem in foster care and how it works is Kathy Ledesma, and she is the adoptions manager for the state of Oregon and the president of the National Association of Adoptions Managers, and she's joining us from member station KOPB in Portland, Oregon.

Thanks for being with us, Kathy.

Ms. KATHY LEDESMA (Adoptions Manager, Oregon): Good afternoon, Frank.

STASIO: When we talk about the pool of adoptable children, who are we talking about in terms of demographics?

Ms. LEDESMA: Demographics--all of the children, as you said earlier, have--are available for adoption as a result of coming to the attention of the child welfare system because of abuse or neglect. The degree of abuse or neglect that they've suffered varies widely, but we no longer have those healthy, white, newborn babies available for adoption. Mostly we're talking about children who are age six or older, are members of sibling groups that we want to keep together, are children of color and children who have various issues--behavioral, mental, emotional, physical conditions--as a result of the abuse or neglect that they've endured.

STASIO: And, Jeff Katz, I know you have to go, but I do want to ask you one more question about whether there are kids along that spectrum who are more difficult to adopt.

Mr. KATZ: Well, there are, and not everyone calling for information about adopting a child is--you know, immediately, `I'd like to adopt a 14-year-old who has been through all these terrible experiences.' But there are a few factors that really should push people towards adopting from foster care, and one is that it's free--that, you know, adopting a child internationally or adopting the few healthy white babies that are available can cost $30,000 or more. If you adopt a child from foster care, it's free. And most people adopting do receive a subsidy of a few hundred dollars a month, and some state offer college scholarships for children from foster care and health care is paid for. So there's a real push. You know, a lot of people we spoke with said, `I don't find it morally defensible to pay $30,000 to adopt a child when there are kids in my own neighborhood who need the help. So you know, there are--adopting a older child is not for everybody, but it is a wonderful thing for people to do and many, many wonderful families are formed by it. And there are lots of people out there who--there are more people out there who are willing to do it and able to do it than make it through the system.

STASIO: All right, Jeff. Thank you very much.

Mr. KATZ: My pleasure.

STASIO: Jeff Katz is a senior fellow at the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. He conducted a study called Listening to Parents: Overcoming the Barriers to Adoption of Children from Foster Care. And Kathy Ledesma is with us, as well. She's adoptions manager for the state of Oregon. Kathy, you've heard some of this. What can be done, what is being done to speed things along?

Ms. LEDESMA: Well, as your last caller said, Frank, things have changed since the time that Jeff did the study. That's one of the downfalls of these studies, is soon as they're finished some of the information is immediately outdated. According to the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, the number of adoptions of children from foster care have increased by 78 percent since 1996; 28,000 that year, 50,000 in the year 2001.

Jeff's finding in his report were really hard for us. Some of that was very difficult information for us to hear, but he was really quite correct in that in our interest in meeting the needs of children, not wanting them to be placed into families that would disrupt later on, we've not paid the attention that we need to in providing excellence in customer service to prospective adoptive families.

STASIO: (800) 989-8255 is the number to call if you want to join our conversation. Matthew is on the line from--is it Galaxy, Virginia?

Unidentified Woman: Pardon?

STASIO: Where are you calling from?

Unidentified Woman: Mesa, Arizona.

STASIO: And you have a question for us?

Unidentified Woman: Yeah. I want to know how I can get that man that did the study to come and give the information to CPS here in Arizona, because he's very accurate, and I wanted to know what his study showed on the problems that poor case managers cause in this system 'cause that's where I have found a lot of the problem falls.

STASIO: And you've tried to adopt or you have adopted?

Unidentified Woman: No, I am a foster mother. No, I haven't adopted. I have a baby that is going up for adoption right now, but working with these case managers who don't do their job who slow everything down, who have bad attitudes toward foster parents and then they ask us to try to--we have almost 10,000 children in foster care in Arizona. They try to get us to encourage other people to be foster parents, and I called them the other day when I got a letter after I'd had a bad experience with my case manager and I'm like, `You know, do you know how hard you make it to try to get people to do foster care when they have to...

STASIO: Yeah.

Unidentified Woman: ...deal with the system?' You know, it's like...

STASIO: I want to get...

Unidentified Woman: ...`Please help these children, but believe me, you're going to go through hell to do it,' you know, it's...

STASIO: Well, thanks for the call. I want to get a response from Kathy, particularly on this idea of case managers. I'm sure you can't talk in particular about that situation, but case managers are overloaded, aren't they? They have way too many cases. It's that true?

Ms. LEDESMA: Frank, that's absolutely right. I'm sorry that your listener in Arizona has had that kind of experience. This is what's happened since the passage of the federal Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997. The number of children that we are needing to place has doubled, and we have doubled the number of children we're placing for adoption. At the same time, we have been challenged to very much decrease the amount of time that we have to achieve those adoptions. In my state, for example, case managers have improved the time to adoption from--have cut that by 50 percent in a period of about five years, so they're being asked to do more work with fewer resources and to do it faster. So I'm sorry your callers have that experience, but it is challenging work.

STASIO: And is there pressure within the system to get the kids adopted quickly?

Ms. LEDESMA: Absolutely there is. There's a federal standard that 32 percent of the children who are adopted should have that adoption achieved within 24 months of when the child first comes into foster care.

STASIO: (800) 989-8255 is the number to call, if you want to join our conversation. We heard earlier from Jeff Katz that there are a lot of parents seeking to adopt. Is that your ca--have you seen that from your point of view? There are...

Ms. LEDESMA: Yes. We do have a lot of parents coming forward to adopt. Timing is everything. Sometimes the children that prospective adoptive parents will see on a Web site or on a Wednesday's Child feature are available for adoption now. But with families just beginning the process, by the time they get through the home study process, which could take six months, seven months, eight months, that child will have already been placed for adoption.

STASIO: Let's go to the line. Matthew is on the line from Galaxy. Hello, Matthew?

MATTHEW (Caller): How you doing today?

STASIO: Good.

MATTHEW: Yeah. My wife and I were trying to adopt. Someone told us we should try to foster a child, and we had two concerns. One, that the child would be unable to be adopted because the parental rights were not terminated, and we were afraid if we started fostering and got connected to a child, then we would lose that child because the parents seem to do just enough to a lot of times get the children back. And I was wondering how they're going about maybe streamlining the system to where the parents that aren't really good parents don't keep on perpetuating the system by, you know, not getting their parental rights terminated.

STASIO: Good question. Thanks, Matthew.

Ms. LEDESMA: That's a very good question and one I'm sure that the judge who'll be on after me will also address. Part of what the Adoption Safe Families Act of 1997 did was to reduce the length of time that parents have to remediate the conditions that brought the children into foster care in the first place. We now are required to file a petition to terminate parental rights at the time that the child has been in foster care for 15 of the previous 22 months. That is to address that long, long problem that we had in foster care of kids languishing in foster care, meaning that they would come in, go home, come in, go home. That has been the single biggest factor that has contributed to decreasing the length of time to adoption is the length of time we give parents to remediate conditions.

STASIO: Kathy, thank you so much for being with us.

Ms. LEDESMA: Thank you.

STASIO: Kathy Ledesma is adoptions manager for the state of Oregon, and we are going to talk more about the legal system. The court system does hold a great deal of power over the life of foster child in his or her family. Joining us now to talk about that responsibility is Justice Maura Corrigan. She's a Supreme Court justice in the state of Michigan, and a member of the Pew Commission on Children in Foster Care. She joins us from the studios of WJR radio in Detroit.

Justice Corrigan, thanks for being with us.

Justice MAURA CORRIGAN (Michigan Supreme Court): Good afternoon, and I'm glad to be with you this afternoon.

STASIO: Can you take us through the process? When a foster child first comes to you, what happens from there?

Justice CORRIGAN: Well, I want to clarify, first of all--I'm on the Supreme Court, so I'm speaking now about the trial court dealing with a child who's in foster care. Courts, from the very beginning, are involved in what happens to a foster child. We are awash in our system in the United States in what are called dependency cases. These are cases of abuse and neglect, where a child is removed from the parental home, and the court is required to approve every action connected with the child's removal from the home and to oversee that child, whether the child is returned to the birth family or whether that child is ultimately removed from the birth family and sent along the road to adoption or some other arrangement.

STASIO: And how many...

Justice CORRIGAN: So we are--pardon me.

STASIO: Go ahead.

Justice CORRIGAN: We have about a half-million children in the United States in foster care at any given time. We have 197,000 children available for adoption right here in the United States. And, again, courts are involved in every single one of those determinations.

STASIO: We're talking today about foster care in the United States and the backlog of foster children awaiting adoptive parents. We've seen research that suggests there are a lot of parents out there, a lot more than have adopted children, and part of the problem is, perhaps, the customer-relations aspect. Some of it also has to do, perhaps, with the legal side of it. And we're taking your calls today at (800) 989-8255.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Frank Stasio in Washington, sitting in for Neal Conan. Judge Maura Corrigan is on the line with me now.

The Adoptive and Safe Families Act of '97 was supposed to improve things but, as we heard from Kathy Ledesma, it's also had the reverse effect. How do you feel about that?

Justice CORRIGAN: I believe that the Adoption and Safe Families Act was designed to improve matters in the country, and that we're walking down the road toward improvement. But at the beginning of this process, since 1997, it has caused difficulties for all the states because we now have a federal overlay on top of the various state schemes that existed in this area. And may I say as well, Frank, that part of the problem is that the family court, the court that handles these cases, is really the lowest on the justice system food chain. We have courts awash in these dependency cases in the United States. We used to say when I was young in the criminal justice system that the criminal cases were on the bottom of the justice system food chain, but I've come to believe something different, and that is that these family-court cases involving children really get the least of the resources that we devote in our justice system. And...

STASIO: Why do you think that is?

Justice CORRIGAN: I think this is a very hidden problem. It's a very vulnerable population. It's ignored. Our legal culture and, in fact, our general culture in this country, I think, devalues children, in fact. We say we value children, we give lip service to it, but we do not devote the resources as a nation to dealing with the needs of these children.

STASIO: Let's go out to San Francisco. Judy's on the line. Hello, Judy.

JUDY (Caller): Hello.

STASIO: Do you have a question for us?

JUDY: Yeah. You know, I work at an organization called Our Family Coalition, and we're an organization of over 500 families parented by lesbian and gay parents. And what we're starting to see is that, even though throughout the country--even though studies show that kids who are raised by lesbian and gay parents do just as well emotionally and cognitively, states are setting up statutory as well as legal, regulatory and bureaucratic obstacles to our families adopting kids. So it really seems like the policy directive should be to increase access to loving homes based on ability to parent, and not on sexual orientation. So I was wondering whether you've looked at that and what your thoughts are about that.

STASIO: All right. Thanks, Judy.

Justice CORRIGAN: Let me say, first of all, that I applaud anybody who wants to rescue a child in this country. As I said a few moments ago, we have a half-million children in foster care, nearly 200,000 available for adoption. On the question of gay adoptions, that is a statutory situation for our legislative policy-makers to decide. I will say in my own home state of Michigan that a single person may adopt in our state without regard to sexual orientation. And the Legislature has passed a statute saying that married couples can adopt. So in my judgment, the current statutory scheme in my home state does permit single persons to adopt, irrespective of their sexual orientation. And any change in the current statutory scheme has to be the produce of the policy-makers in our country looking at that situation.

STASIO: Justice Corrigan, you may have heard Matthew earlier say one of the impediments to this process, to going through adoption, is the fact that the birth parents sometimes have the right and maintain the right for a long time to take their children back, and this makes prospective adoptive parents shy. Is there any...

Justice CORRIGAN: This is--Matthew is exactly right about that problem. In our state, we've addressed it, and we are, in fact, on the Pew Commission, urging that other states take a look at this problem. But in Michigan, we have resolved that situation so that parental rights must be terminated before a child can be freed for adoption. And what we need to do is move our justice system so that we move the cases quickly enough so that that child is free for adoption, and we don't have the problem of the child being returned to the birth parents when relationships have been established.

I wanted also to say, Frank...

STASIO: You know what? I'm going to ask you to hold the thought, Justice Corrigan, because we're going to take a short break right here. We're going to continue our discussion on foster care and adoption, and we're going to take a look at some other factors in globalization when we return. So please stay with us.

I'm Frank Stasio. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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STASIO: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Frank Stasio in Washington, sitting in for Neal Conan.

Here are some of the stories on NPR today that we're following. The Senate has approved a $295 billion measure to fund bigger, better roads and to create tens of thousands of jobs, but the Bush administration says it's too expensive for a country at war and in debt. Also in the Senate today, leaders hit a brick wall in their effort to compromise on President Bush's stalled judicial nominees. More details on those stories this afternoon on "All Things Considered" from NPR News.

Tomorrow, we continue our participation in Think Global, public radio's week of special coverage, with a look at how different media cover our increasingly global world. Does your local newspaper or TV tell you what you need to know about what happens around the world? What--has what you need to know been covered properly in a changing world? Well, we're going to take a look.

But today we're talking about reforms in states, reforms they are considering to the foster care system to make it easier for prospective parents to adopt. Are you in the system? Are you planning to adopt? Are you in the foster care system? Have you been a foster child? Give us a call: (800) 989-TALK. E-mail address: totn@npr.org. My guest at the moment is Judge Maura Corrigan. Justice Corrigan is Supreme Court justice in the state of Michigan.

And before the break, you were talking about some of the challenges in adopting, because adoptive parents have the right to bring their children back.

Justice CORRIGAN: Indeed. There's a myth, I think, out there that a court will undo an adoption, and that is very much a myth. In the example of my own state, I think in the last 20 years, the Supreme Court has actually intervened to undo a termination of parental rights on about two occasions. But those cases are so widely reported that a myth is created that a court will step in and undo the adoption. In fact, right now we have 6,000 children in Michigan available for adoption who are waiting to be adopted, and Michigan is about seventh largest in the country. California, for example, has a hundred thousand children in foster care, with many, many of those children available for adoption. And the courts do not frequently get involved to undo an adoption, but the myth is out there that needs to be undone. There are plenty of American children available for adoption.

Also, I think that there's a myth in the public that there is some sort of damaged-goods aspect to these children, and I would want to say, Frank, that part of the problem why some of the children have difficulty is because they remain in the system for such a long time. And that has to be our goal as leaders in the judicial system to move these children and to work with our social welfare agencies to move these children. And that is another of the systemic defects, as I see them and as the Pew Commission found, that we need to collaborate better with our child welfare agencies in the United States.

STASIO: Let...

Justice CORRIGAN: That's one of our principal recommendations and one that we've failed at.

STASIO: Let's go out to Idaho. William is on the line. William, hello.

WILLIAM (Caller): Hello.

STASIO: Do you have a question for us.

WILLIAM: Well, no. I wanted to make a comment. I'm somebody who has, in a sense, lost their children to--in the system. But, fortunately, my wife and I were able to finally get our children into a home that we felt--a foster home, that is--we felt was more to our liking. We did give up our parental rights, but one thing that we also got out of it was we were able to maintain some sort of contact with our children, whether it be through letters or sending just Christmas or birthday presents. So to the people out there, there is that option. Granted, there may be some problems, but I would say that the adoptive family and my wife and I--we have remained very good friends. We have a good, open relationship with them. Even though they live in another state, we have had good results as part of this.

STASIO: You're saying that children born to you were put into the foster care system?

WILLIAM: Yes.

STASIO: And that--but now you have a way to maintain contact without retaining the rights to have those children returned to you. That's what you're saying?

WILLIAM: Correct. Correct.

STASIO: Well, thank you for the call, William.

Are these options, Justice Corrigan, that are available and that too few parents know about and that prospective adoptive parents need to know about?

Justice CORRIGAN: I'm not really familiar with what the law of Idaho would permit in that circumstance or whether your caller had a private arrangement somehow that the court approved. Usually when there's a termination of parental rights, that is a severing of, certainly, the legal relationship between parent and child. I will say this: One thing that we have learned in this system is that, when a child is over 11 years old, that child has formed very strong relationships with the birth family, and it is very difficult to sever parental relationships at that age. We've found from studying our runaways, the runaways from foster care, that frequently they were returning home to their birth family, no matter how badly they had been abused or neglected in that family.

So we have learned, and the Pew Commission understands and has recommended, that there be many options for older children; for example, not just adoption where there's a termination of parental rights, but perhaps something like a subsidized guardianship so that an aunt or uncle who might be interested in taking a child would be capable of doing it, and that would be blessed by the courts. That arrangement would be blessed. Because our goal is to have a safe and permanent home for every child in the United States, not to have these children be in legal limbo. So we need to open our minds and discover all of the most creative ways that we can to--bring that about.

STASIO: Well, Justice Corrigan, thanks very much for joining us.

Justice CORRIGAN: You're very welcome. My pleasure.

STASIO: Justice Maura Corrigan is a Supreme Court justice in Michigan, active in foster care and adoption issues.

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