Uses Technology to Link
Waiting Kids with Adoptive
By Kathy Millar
More Make A Dozen
and Ken Freshour found children available in Texas via the
Internet from their home in Blue Ridge, Georgia. The faces
that suddenly appeared on the screen changed the Freshour's
lives, and it was only a matter of months before a sibling
group of seven children were calling the Blue Ridge couple
"Mom" and "Dad." Ken Freshour, who is a Methodist minister,
says he and his wife had always wanted a "big family." Courtesy
of modern technology, they now have one -- the seven children
from Texas first discovered on the electronic site has brought
the total to twelve, yes, an even dozen, Freshour youngsters.
American couples travel oversees every year to adopt children abandoned
in foreign countries. China, Russia, Romania, Bosnia, Central and
South America -- all have become routine destinations for parents
"with loving homes and lives to share with a new daughter or
son." We are a nation of big heartedness, a country vast enough
to take in countless numbers of unwanted children and transform
them into new generations of Americans.
But what about
Americas unwanted children, thousands relegated to institutions
or foster homes by overburdened court systems? "In Dallas,
Texas alone," says Beverly Levy, "there are more than
1,700 foster kids, over 500,000 across the country, many of
whom are available for adoption."
For Levy, Co-chair
of Target: Kids in Court, and U.S. Attorney Paul Coggins, who chairs
the project, moving American children out of foster homes and institutions
and into "homes of their own" has become a crusade, a
collaborative campaign whose goals are quickly outpacing the groups
to Reinvent the System
Levy, who is also the Executive Director of the Dallas CASA
(Court Appointed Special Advocates) agency in Dallas,
have been eyewitnesses to the plight of abused and neglected
children and juvenile offenders caught in the court system and
warehoused inside state and county institutions. They were
determined to "reinvent" the system and so when an opportunity
to convene leaders from all the agencies involved with children
in the court system materialized, Paul Coggins and Beverly Levy
went for it.
together all the key players in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, representatives
from the courts, juvenile departments, law enforcement and local,
state and federal government. The leads of legal and social service
agencies and state bar associations were there as well.
said Coggins and Levy, "convening all the key agency heads
meant if we could not fix the systemic problems, we had no one to
blame but ourselves. We saw that the surest way of ending the blame
game was to leave no empty chairs around the table."
Kids in Court
-- Target: Kids in Court -- was an unprecedented collaboration,
a one of a kind partnership between local, state and federal agencies.
Red tape, turf- battles and agency overlap are rapidly disappearing,
and today, Target: Kids in Court is not only changing the lives
of thousands of at-risk children but also providing a model for
similar efforts around the nation.
of TKICs success? Collaborators in Dallas-Ft. Worth quickly
identified a shared vision -- to move children out of the system
quickly and successfully by addressing all their needs, legal and
otherwise, as soon as possible. Each participant in that inaugural
meeting pledged to serve on the TKIC Steering Committee and each
organization head promised to devote one or more of their top people
to participate in the Sub-Committees called "Working
Groups." The real key to the success of our collaborative
effort," Levy said, "was the strong leadership of an extraordinary
facilitator, Evy Kay Ritzen. Her collaborative process was our roadmap
to success. She showed us the way.
Is Put to Work
It was the
efforts of the Steering Committee and the Placement Working
Group that yielded one of the most innovative developments to come
out of the initiative -- the creation of "electronic adoption
kiosks" that were later placed in the lobbies of two federal
buildings in the Dallas-Ft.Worth community.
link to an adoption
website with photographs of Texas children waiting for homes
and biographical information about them, thus putting a "human
face on adoption." A companion
site features many children waiting across America. These websites
remind the same Americans who might travel thousands of miles to
help a needy child abroad that this particular journey of the heart
might also be completed by reaching out no more than a few city
miles or across a few state lines.
Chris and Ken
Freshour found children available in Texas via the Internet from
their home in Blue Ridge, Georgia. The faces that suddenly appeared
on the screen changed the Freshours lives, and it was only
a matter of months before a sibling group of seven children were
calling the Blue Ridge couple "Mom" and "Dad."
Ken Freshour, who is a Methodist minister, says he and his wife
had always wanted a "big family." Courtesy of modern technology,
they now have one -- the seven children from Texas first discovered
on the electronic site has brought the total to twelve, yes, an
even dozen, Freshour youngsters.
with help from Freddie Mac Homesteps, Heritage Exhibits and
affiliated Computer Services, a second generation of kiosks is being
designed for placement in Northpark Center in Dallas and other
shopping centers, malls, government buildings and stores. President
Clinton is so impressed that he has asked Health and Human Services
to duplicate the "adoption through technology" initiative
nationwide, through a federally-supported national adoption website.
website that could include all youngsters available in public adoptions
will give these kids a much greater pool of families to draw from,"
says Joe Kroll of the North American council on Adoptable Children.
better than good news -- not only for the 8,000 U.S. children waiting
for homes right now -- but for the thousands expected to become
legally adoptable over the next few years, when a 1997 law that
shortens the time children can live in foster homes begins to take
About Adoption Increased
In Texas, the
demand for electronic adoption kiosks is increasing, telephone calls
to public adoption agencies have increased from 20 a month to more
than a hundred an hour, and the initiative that began with surplus
government computers is now the beneficiary of professional design
services and technological assistance from private sector supporters
like Freddie Mac Homesteps. Beverly Levy and Paul Coggins may have
galvanized a movement whose time had come, but like all great ideas,
using technology to encourage the adoption of U.S. kids is a notion
supported by a growing circle of people, especially those dedicated
to making the government work better for its citizens.
President of the Latino network, Univision, wants to go nationwide
with the project, as does CASA and the American Bar Association.
The Dave Thomas Foundation and the Freddie Mac Foundation are gearing
up with ingenious, supportive marketing campaigns and growing technical
assistance. Vice-Presidents Partnership for Reinventing Government
has lauded the effort for its compatibility with NPRs Hassle-Free
Community program in Dallas-Ft. Worth and for its success in delivering
better service to the American people. But the people who probably
appreciate the initiative most are the ones we have to wait a few
years to hear from -- kids like 5-year old Nolan or 12-year-old
Jeremy, children in Texas and across the nation, who may grow up,
happily, as the embodiments of a system that decided the best use
of technology was to better the human condition.
For more information
on how to adopt or become a CASA volunteer advocate for a child
in court, visit the CASA
For more information
about the Dallas-Forth Worth effort, contact Beverly Levy at BLEVY@dallascasa.org.
is a speechwriter at the National Partnership for Reinventing Government
(NPR), representing the U.S. Customs Service, Department of the
Treasury. You may contact her at (202) 694-0105 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
You may also reach her at the telecenter near her home at (304)
728-3051, ext. 255 or email@example.com.
Adoption Information Clearinghouse website