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Web Site to List Foster Children for Adoption

By Barbara Vobejda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 25, 1998; Page A05

President Clinton announced yesterday a plan to create an Internet site that will carry photographs and information on as many as 100,000 children in the nation's foster care system in hopes of matching them with adoptive parents.

The president announced the initiative during a White House ceremony marking the first anniversary of the Adoption and Safe Families Act, which revamped the foster care system to speed the placement of children in permanent homes after they are taken from abusive or neglectful parents.

The law established bonuses of $4,000 to be paid by the federal government to states for every child who is adopted out of the child protection system, and $6,000 for the adoption of a child considered hard to place because of age, handicap or other circumstances.

Clinton hopes the new Internet effort will enable the administration to reach its goal of doubling the number of foster care adoptions by 2002. "We can use the Internet to promote adoptions while protecting the confidentiality of children and families," Clinton said. "Technology has given us an important tool and we should use it."

The ceremony also honored 24 families who adopted children yesterday through the D.C. Superior Court, an annual "Adoption Day" event traditionally held at the court but transferred to the White House at the request of first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. Among the speakers was District Mayor-elect Anthony Williams, who was adopted at the age of 3 [Details, Page B8].

Currently, 18 states -- including Maryland -- maintain their own sites on the World Wide Web to promote adoptions of children in foster care, while other states provide information to private social service agencies that have created similar sites. But the result is a cumbersome and haphazard system that makes it difficult for prospective families to learn about available children across the country.

Under the president's plan, Health and Human Services Secretary Donna E. Shalala will determine over the next two months the best way to create one Internet site that will link the other sites and essentially serve as a clearinghouse for interested parents. HHS officials said the site would protect the privacy of children by posting information only after permission is received from the children's legal guardians.

The nation's foster care system includes about 500,000 children, of whom 100,000 are available for adoption because social workers have determined that they cannot be returned to their birth parents. In the past, just a fraction of those children have been adopted -- the figure was 20,000 in 1995.

By creating financial bonuses and other incentives, the federal law was designed to increase that number. It also was intended to shorten the legal process for determining that a child is free for adoption and to shift the emphasis in cases of severe abuse away from attempts to reunite biological families.

Figures are not yet available to show whether the number of adoptions has increased since passage of the law. But from 1996 to 1997, the number of adoptions increased by more than 10 percent, from 28,000 to 31,000, according to federal statistics.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post

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