Lt. Governor Kottkamp Launches Initiative to Promote Benefits of Public Adoption, Unveils New Brand
~ "Explore Adoption" initiative aims to link families to 1,000 Florida children waiting for homes ~
JACKSONVILLE – Lt. Governor Jeff Kottkamp today launched Governor Charlie Crist’s statewide adoption initiative, "Explore Adoption," aimed at promoting the benefits of public adoption and urging families to consider creating or expanding their families by adopting a child who is older, disabled or part of a sibling group. The initiative will “put a new face on public adoption” by telling the many stories of families who have enriched their lives by adopting Florida’s children.
“One of my top priorities is to make certain that Florida’s children find loving, safe and permanent homes,” said Governor Crist. “Our goal is to reach those who would consider adopting a child and then make information easily available to them so that they can explore their options.”
Lt. Governor Kottkamp unveiled the initiative at an event celebrating the 400th adoption in Duval County this year. The adoption ceremony took place at the Duval County Courthouse on the eve of Mother’s Day weekend, where more than 20 adoptions will be finalized later today. Joining Lt. Governor Kottkamp at today’s launch were Chief Child Advocate Jim Kallinger, Department of Children and Families (DCF) Assistant Secretary George Sheldon, Duval County Judges David Gooding, Waddell Wallace, Henry Davis and Jack Schemer.
“Florida has children with special needs, but we also have parents with special gifts,” Lt. Governor Kottkamp said. “Whether you are an experienced parent who has more to give, or a person who is able to help a child with medical issues or disabilities, or someone who loves children and would be enriched by adopting a group of siblings who want to stay together – there are children in the public adoption system who are ready to be a part of your family.”
Every year, about 3,000 Florida children become available for adoption when a court permanently severs ties to their birth parents due to abuse, neglect or abandonment. Of those, 40 percent are adopted by relatives, and another 40 percent are adopted by their foster parents. The remaining children must be matched to a family previously unknown to them, which is the goal of the "Explore Adoption" initiative. Most of the children who wait the longest are older than age 8, are African American, are part of a sibling group or have a physical or emotional disability.
As part of the "Explore Adoption" launch, Lt. Governor Kottkamp released a new poll of Floridians that holds out hope families can be found, especially if the state does a better job of educating potential parents about the benefits of public adoption.
The "Explore Adoption" initiative also aims to correct misperceptions identified in the poll, including these:
Benefits of Public Adoption
- Of those considering adoption, 37 percent say they are concerned the state’s rules would be too stringent to let them adopt, while one in five believe the state would deem them too old to adopt. In fact, people can adopt whether they are older or younger, married or single, wealthy or of modest means, homeowners or renters.
- 45 percent worry about biological parents taking a child back and believe private adoptions are more secure. Yet, public adoptions are very secure, since the parental rights of the children’s birth parents are permanently terminated before the children are made available for adoption.
- Nearly half, 47 percent, believe most children who are available for adoption from foster care have special needs and may be more difficult to care for than other children. The term “special needs” may create confusion, leading people to think all of these children have physical or emotional disabilities. In reality, “special needs” is a legal term used to define children who may qualify for a subsidy – and it applies to children who are age 8 or older, African American or part of a sibling group – even if they have no disability.
Through public education, expanded partnerships and a Web-based outreach campaign, "Explore Adoption" invites Floridians to find out more about the children immediately available for adoption within their home state. Kallinger said most Floridians are unaware of the significant benefits of public adoption, and a new poll shows they are more likely to consider adoption when they hear about them.
Among the benefits, public adoption:
Costs little or nothing. Virtually all costs to adopt a child from the public system – the home study, attorneys’ fees, court costs and training – are borne by the state. Many private adoptions can cost the adoptive family $20,000 or more.
Is very secure. Children are not made available for public adoption until a judge has terminated their birth parents’ rights. This is a key education point, because 83 percent of Floridians polled said they would be more likely to adopt if they knew there were no chance the child would be returned to the birth parent.
Provides financial supports. Children adopted through the public system qualify for free health care until they turn 18, free college tuition at any state university, community college or trade school, and may qualify for monthly financial assistance, depending on the child’s needs. More than 70 percent of those polled said they were more likely to adopt when they learned about the health care and tuition benefits.
Provides an opportunity to get to know a child. Prospective parents can search for a child who matches their interests through a searchable database on www.adoptflorida.org and can meet and get to know a child to make sure it’s a good match for all.
Can be speedy. The entire process – from orientation, training, background checks, and home study, to getting matched with a child or children – can often be accomplished in about nine months.
Among the poll findings, 63 percent said they would be more likely to adopt if they knew there was monthly financial assistance. Although the state’s budget shortfall jeopardized adoption subsidies, DCF Secretary Bob Butterworth said legislation passed the final day of session will allow DCF the flexibility to move funds to cover the shortfall.
“We recognize that some of our children need ongoing services that carry a price tag,” Butterworth said. “We will work to make sure there is money available so that financial issues don’t stand in the way of a child finding a permanent home.”
At the same time, Kallinger said the state must “cast a wider net” to encourage more people to consider public adoption. Kallinger cited the important role existing adoptive parents can play in sharing their experiences and serving as ambassadors for children in care to other prospective parents. In the poll, 54 percent said they would be more likely to adopt if they knew other adoptive parents had a positive experience.
Secretary Butterworth pledged to work with the state’s community-based care providers to streamline the adoption process as much as possible and eliminate any unnecessary bureaucratic delays. “The process of adoption should take as long as necessary to make sure our children are placed in safe, loving homes and our adoptive families are ready to make a lifetime commitment – and not a day longer,” Butterworth said. “We have the potential to build a network of support to help every adoptive family succeed. With the help of many partners, we will achieve that goal.”
Among the partners recognized at the news conference were the Florida Nurses Association, which will help promote adoption of children with medical complications to more than 200,000 nurses statewide, and the Family Network on Disabilities of Florida Inc., which will help link children with disabilities who are seeking homes, with Florida families who are familiar with disabilities due to their own situation or a family member’s. Both groups have agreed to share information about the public adoption process and specific waiting children on the Web, at meetings, and through their printed and electronic communication vehicles.
“We will use all our partnerships to tell the stories of families who enriched their lives by adopting one of Florida’s children,” Kallinger said. “This initiative will reach out to people who have not considered public adoption before and invite them to take the first step.”
To learn more about the Governor’s adoption initiative or view a copy of the complete survey findings, please visit www.adoptflorida.org.
To view or download a complete "Explore Adoption" media kit, please visit www.adoptflorida.org/newsroom. The media kit includes the following:
- News release
- Survey findings
- Adoption facts
- Frequently asked questions
- General brochure
- Partnership handout
- Faith-based partnership handout