Looking for a Forever Family
Sometimes, the secret to finding a new family comes with a new pair of shoes. At the 11th annual Adoption Fashion Show, 11-year old DaShon struts on stage in shiny white sneakers and stylish jeans. He's a handsome kid, and when he strikes a cool-guy pose, the crowd eats it up. All of the models for this fashion show are in foster care, but hoping for adoption. DaShon's here with his current foster mom. A few months back he was living at "Miss Johnson's House." And before that? "Miss Phylicia," he says, after a moment's thought. When was the last time he lived with his mom and dad? "Um, I can't remember. It was a long time ago," says DaShon. "Our first goal is for children to be placed with their biological parents," says Jennifer Freeman, an adoption recruiter for Mecklenburg County, who organized the fashion show. "When they can't be placed back with their biological parent, that's when we have to look at other options for adoption." The fashion show is one of Mecklenburg County's main events for matching foster children with adoptive homes. The kids go shopping for new clothes and interested families come to watch them strut. Of the one-thousand youth in the County's care, Freeman says about a third will need adopting. The majority are teenage boys like 15-year old Jeremy. He's working the stage in a green golf shirt and slacks. He lives in a Charlotte group home and has a little trouble with the question "Do you want to be adopted?" "In a way yes," says Jeremy. "But in a way, not really. I don't like being in the system and I want somebody to come home to and say that's my mom, that's my dad, this is my sister, this is my brother. And no, because I want to be with my real family." But he says that's not possible until he's 18. "It's just sad to see so many kids out there needing a home," says April Mason. She's exactly the kind of person Mecklenburg County hopes to attract with the fashion show. She spent most of it wiping tears from her eyes. And though at first she wasn't sure if foster adoption was right for her, "I'm really, really sold. I really really am," she says, after seeing the kids on stage. What's more, Mason is looking for a teenager around the same age as her own daughter. Adoption Recruiter Jennifer Freeman says that's rare. "Because I think people still have the old thought in their head - they want a baby so they can mold them," says Freeman. "That older child is ready to grow and be an active part of the family the second they walk in. They just really need somebody to be open to them." Freeman says the majority of people who foster and adopt in Mecklenburg County are single women - like Mason. And Dannie Hightower, who's been looking into foreign adoptions, but thought she'd check out the fashion show. She has concerns - like how involved the child's family would be if she adopts from the foster system. But she sees at least one advantage. "You're helping your community here," says Hightower. "Helping the area that you live in and making a commitment to that community." There are other advantages. Adopting from the foster system is virtually free, compared to the thousands of dollars a private adoption costs. And children adopted from the foster system get free health coverage from the state. The adoptions can be a lengthy process, though, including 30 hours of training and extensive - even intrusive - checks into your background and personal life. That's one reason why Freeman says adoptive parents are usually foster parents first. "Because yes, we want you, but of course, we definitely make sure that we screen our families so that we're gonna be putting a child in another positive place," says Freeman. Right after the fashion show, dozens of people stick around for an adoption orientation. Ultimately only a few will end up following through. Barely a third of Mecklenburg County's foster youth available for adoption, actually find a permanent home. But Freeman says a couple of last year's models are scheduled to have their adoptions finalized tomorrow in court. "And hopefully next year, all of the children that were featured today will find permanent homes," says Freeman. Mecklenburg County is making tomorrow's adoption proceedings into a big party. It's open to the public, starting at 9 a.m. at the courthouse.