In McLean County, some 222 children in foster care are currently waiting for the chance to find a permanent home.
Of those children, 88 are African American. They make up about 40 percent of the children in foster care, but last year accounted for only about 26 percent of the permanent adoptions.
A conference Friday on "The Heart and Soul of Adoption: Black Children, Black Families and the Quest for Permanency" aims to change that by helping families better understand the adoption process, the experience of adoptive families and children and the services available to them.
The free conference takes place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Illinois State University's Bone Student Center.
Victoria Rowell, an actress who appeared on TV's "Diagnosis Murder" and "The Young and the Restless," will give the keynote address. Rowell grew up in foster care and chronicled her experiences in the bestselling book, "The Women Who Raised Me."
African Americans families have a long tradition of informal adoptions in which children are raised by grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends and other relatives. But formal adoptions have not been a major part of African American culture, said Doris Houston, a social work professor and director of ISU's Center for Child Welfare and Adoption Studies.
It has to do with America's history of racism.
"Before the civil rights era, most African American families were not even allowed to be served by your average adoption agency," Houston said on GLT's Sound Ideas. "It was just another form of segregation."
During slavery and even the post-slavery era, "Many families were separated and extended family -- friends, neighbors --would step in to raise the children. That tradition continued. African Americans made their own arrangements informally," Houston said.
Even after African Americans were able to use formal adoption services, many of those agencies remained geared toward white, middle class or affluent families, Houston added.
Houston said a "number of structural factors within our society" accounts for the over-representation of African American children in the system.
An African American mother is more likely to be tested for drug use at the time of birth, "where a white middle class family may have a substance abuse issue, but may not receive that testing," Houston said.
"Because of a number of factors related to how our society views families and individuals of color, many times those families get involved in the child welfare system versus being diverted into supportive resources, such as counseling, domestic violence treatment, etc," Houston added.
Houston said the topic of adoption generally doesn't receive the attention it deserves.
"We want this conference to provide an opportunity for families, individuals and professionals to come together to talk about ways to break down the some of the barriers that might be preventing families from adopting, and also to talk about the beauty of caring for children," Houston said.
She said white families who might want to adopt a children are "most welcome" to attend the conference.
"We really live in a multi-cultural society ... We welcome all families and all community members," she added.
Many families fear they might not have the financial means to adopt, Houston said, but are unaware of the many resources available to adoptive parents in the form of financial aid and services.
The topics that will be discussed at the conference include: Making Adoption Successful; Educational Supports for Adoptive Families; The Power of Communication in Influencing A Youth’s School and Life Success and African American Children and Multi-Cultural Adoption.
There is more information about the conference at http://adoptionresearch.illinoisstate.edu/projects.
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