Kevin is 13. His mother was 15 when he was born. She was in foster care at the time, as he has been for most of his life, despite intensive efforts to place him in adoption.

Kevin was diagnosed as "intellectually limited" when he was about 3 months old. That label and his dark skin color have thwarted attempts to kind him a permanent home, according to adoption workers. Since age 6 he has been given drugs for his behavior problems.

For most of his life, Kevin has been shuttled from one institution to another and among several foster homes, group homes, even a mental hospital after placement with his natural mother failed. He was adopted for one month last year after a television campaign in which he pleaded for "a mommy ana daddy, just somebody to love me," but the adoption did not last.

There are thousands of children like Kevin in the Washington, Maryland and Virginia area, according to Janet Hutchinson, director of the Children's Adoption Resource Exchange, who is in the business of finding homes for children with multiple handicaps who are hard to place.

Such children come to CARE "when the agencies don't know what to do with them," Hutchinson said.

Many of them have lingered in foster care homes for years, and often are shuffled from one set of temporary parents to another. Some are groups of siblings that agencies try to keep together.

Many of the children are mentally retarded with physical handicaps or adolescent and emotional problems that aggravate their chances of finding a permanent home. They are the product of broken homes, abandonment, unwed mothers, incest and rape.

"Skin color is still very important," Hutchinson noted. She said a dark complexion is sometimes undesirable in a black child, such as Kevin, but extremely fair skin can work against another.

It is not easy, Hutchinson said, to match such children with families who more often than not seeking healthy, happy and very young infants.

CARE, a three-woman operation located at 3711 Macomb St. NW, which is funded through grants, specializes in adoptions of "hard to place" children. It has had 112 successful adoptions in its year and a half of operations.

CARE, one of six such regional services in the country, advertises and promotes children referred to it by private and public adoption agencies.

A running catalogue of about 80 children is constantly updated in the CARE office. The numbered listings include laudatory adjective describing the child' nature, they also tell the unpleasant aspects of his or her background. Each listing includes a picture of the child.

"Jimmy is a delightful little fellow whose antics and friendly, warm responsiveness are enjoyed by all with whom he comes in contact," begins a recent listing for a 7-year-old.

"Jimmy is of Korean-American heritage and has Down's Syndrome (monogolism) . . . a congenital heart defect and a scalp condition resulting in baldness," the description continues. It includes an interjection that "We know some pretty famous people who are bald."

A child's failure to get adopted out of foster care or an institution is sometimes the result of agency error, Hutchinson said. A 10-year-old who had been diagnosed as having cerebral palsy turned out after adoption to be not at all "retarded" but an "A student", she said.

Agencies sometimes send CARE children who are not problem cases at all, Hutchinson said, noting that it costs the agency about $1,000 to place an infant but up to $6,000 to arrange the adoption of an older child.

CARE has a statewide contract for placements with Maryland, and operates under contractural agreement in Virginia. It is not paid for services in the District.

Since 1975 the District has had an adoption subsidy law, permitting payments by the Department of Human Resources to families with financial problems to help in providing for their adopted children.Adoptive parents of a hard to place child with special medical needs, for example, would be eligible for the subsidy, as would families whose incomes are too low to afford adoption.

The city pays more to foster parents than the adoption subsidy rate. There are about 2,700 children now in foster care, but only 20 have been placed in subsidized adoptions, so the $50,000 maximum budget for that purpose will probably be largely used in other programs.

DHR is trying to move some of the children who are in the limbo of foster care into permanent placement through such agencies as CARE, Jernigan said. "We have the children and they have been able to develop some (adoptive) homes," she said.

Hutchinson said CARe is trying desperately to survive until the relatively new idea of adoption exchanges takes hold.