A local radio station has dedicated an hour a week to District foster children who talk about their desired family, in an attempt to get more people interested in adopting them.
Last month five foster children -- one girl and four boys -- were interviewed by LaToya Foster, host of "Live @ 5," on WOL-AM (1450). The idea to feature District foster children on the radio came from Adoptions Together, a Maryland-based nonprofit that is using a $1.3 million federal grant to find adoptive homes for African American foster children.
Kamilah Bunn, a recruitment specialist with the nonprofit, has worked with District child welfare officials and approached the Child and Family Services Agency about the project last year. The agency provides foster children for the weekly "Wednesday's Child" segment on NBC 4 (WRC-TV), but Bunn thought the radio show would be a good way for children -- particularly teenagers uncomfortable showing their faces on television -- to talk to the public about wanting to be adopted.
"This gives children a voice and allows families to hear directly from them," said Bunn, who works for the If Not Us project, which finds adoptive families for African American children ages 10 and older.
The District has custody of about 2,700 abused and neglected children, about one-half of whom are 13 and older. About 93 percent of city foster children are African American, according to agency statistics. About 400 children have been cleared for adoption by Family Court judges.
Frances James, who supervises a five-member recruitment unit at the agency, said the radio partnership is another example of new efforts that the agency is undertaking to find adoptive homes for older children, which is often a bigger challenge because potential parents tend to prefer younger children.
Abused and neglected District children can remain in foster care until age 21, but more than 100 District youth "age out" of the system each year without ever having been adopted, according to the agency.
"I think we have to get the kids out there without invading their personal space or without them feeling singled out," James said.
Foster, the radio host, said that when she learned about the number of African American children in foster care in the District and the shortage of adoptive families, she decided to dedicate one show a week in May to the issue. Nationwide, African American children make up two-thirds of the 500,000 children in foster care, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
At 5 p.m. each Monday, the start of Foster's show, a foster child sat in a Radio One studio in Lanham and talked a little about himself or herself. The agency does not release the last names of the children, to protect their privacy.
A couple of weeks ago, Christina, 14, told listeners that she wants to be a lawyer and a Supreme Court justice when she grows up. She loves to dance and sing, and even indulged Foster by crooning a few short lines on the show.
After the applause, Foster asked: What would your perfect family possess?
"I'd like to have a foster mom that can talk to me about anything. That when I talk to her she'll understand me and know where I'm coming from," Christina said.
A 12-year-old boy named Elliott recently won a school poetry contest and said he wants an adoptive family to help him reach his goals. Derrick, who is also 12 and has been in foster care since 2002, is a seventh-grader who enjoys math, art and geography. After the children talk about themselves, Bunn and the agency recruiter talk to listeners about the child.
"These children are talented and ambitious. . . . There have to be some people out there who can open up their hearts and homes to these children," Foster said.
Officials are talking about how to continue the show after its initial one-month run. James said that the city agency has not yet received inquiries from potential adoptive parents based on the radio program, but that the show has helped to spread awareness.
In another new recruiting approach, James said she recently mailed dozens of letters to medical facilities in the region seeking permission to talk to their staffs in an attempt to find foster and adoptive parents with medical expertise who can care for children with special needs. And starting in June, Child and Family Services will feature a panel of teenagers at its twice-monthly foster and adoptive parent orientation sessions.
On the show, Christina confided that she loves reading and wants to have siblings around her age. With the end of school and summer vacation near, Foster asked Christina how she would spend a day with her perfect family.
"We'd go to Six Flags, every day," she said.