NOTE: PHOTO/SIDEBAR/2 BOXES
Arizona Children’s Home’s Building Bridges program is finding adoptive parents for older minority children.
Ten-year-old Natalie Woods has had many mothers:
Her natural mother – an alcohol- and drug-addicted woman whom she barely remembers, several foster mothers and Ollie Woods.
Woods is Natalie’s mother forever.
“I’m happy now,’ Natalie says about being adopted by Woods. “We have fun stuff to play with, food, good clothes and a family. And now we don’t have to move place to place.’
Natalie is one of five children Woods has adopted. Her story is one of the successes of the Arizona Children’s Home’s Building Bridges adoption program, which attempts to place minority children in adoptive homes.
Woods has two grown children of her own. Then there’s Phillip, 7; half-brothers Kyle, 9, and Jerrimy, 10, who, like Woods, are African-American; and Natalie and her brother Alex, 12, who are Hispanic.
Phillip, Kyle and Jerrimy were adopted in October 1995. Natalie and Alex joined the family officially in January, though Woods became their foster mom in August 1994.
Woods, 44 and single, works full time as an information management specialist with the Air National Guard.
Her days are full and hectic.
She gets up at 3:45 a.m., throws a load of laundry in, showers, dresses, begins breakfasts and wakes the children at 4:45 a.m.
She’s supposed to be at work at 6 a.m., but she’s usually late because the day care center, where her children stay until school begins, doesn’t open until 6:30.
After work, she picks up the children, helps them with homework, feeds and plays with them, kisses them goodnight and tucks them in bed by 8 p.m. She has three more hours of laundry, cleaning and preparing for the next day before she can fall into bed herself.
The birth mothers of both sets of Woods’ adopted children drank and took drugs during pregnancy, said Woods. As a result, she said, each child suffers emotionally. Abuse and neglect after they were born also took an emotional toll, she added. Woods does everything with patience, complete attention and constant love. She wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It’s human kindness,’ she explains. “I like to think I’m not the only person who would do this. Ultimately, we are responsible for everyone on the planet. I believe in God and that we should take care of each other. Children aren’t responsible for being in this world. If every family took in one child, we wouldn’t have homeless or foster homes. It’s up to us to save the world.’
There are approximately 389 children on the Department of Economic Security’s Pima County adoption registry waiting to be adopted. Of those, more than 55 percent are of color. Most are 6 to 17 years old, while most parents interested in adoption want children 3 or younger, according to the DES.
To deal with the dilemma, the Arizona Children’s Home, in collaboration with Catholic Social Services and the Department of Economic Security, launched the Building Bridges adoption program in October 1994 with a $150,000, two-year federal grant.
“We have three goals,’ said Tricia Tillman, the Building Bridges minority adoption advocate. “To increase the number of adoptions of minority children, to encourage more minority adults to adopt, and to build lasting community links so people will know there is a need for adoptions.’
Adoption suffers from a bad rap, said Tillman – people think it is a difficult thing to do.
“There are a lot of myths that prevent people from adopting,’ she said. “They think they are too old, or that singles can’t adopt or that adoption costs thousands of dollars. That’s wrong.’
In reality, the only age restriction is that parents must be at least 21. Single people can adopt, said Tillman, and the adoption process can cost less than $100.
Adopting parents aren’t left to fend for themselves.
“There’s a lot of support that families get through the process, and after the adoption,’ she said. “There’s a transition period before adoption becomes final, and families are hooked up with social workers.’
A large part of the Building Bridges program concentrates on reaching out to African-American, Hispanic and Native American families who might be interested in adoption.
“I target areas where there are higher concentrations of minority peoples,’ said Tillman. “I speak to schools, groups in higher minority neighborhoods, and black and hispanic churches.’
Ideally, children are placed in homes that reflect their ethnicity.
“The adjustments are less if they are placed in a minority home,’ Tillman explained.
“Culturally, the child may be able to identify more,’ she said.“Children do have a sense of difference.’
But it isn’t necessary.
“Children should be in a home,’ Woods said, “no matter what color it is.’
Natalie’s new mom
Natalie’s and Alex’s early years, when they lived with their birth mother, were spent hopping from school to school, and home to home. Sometimes, those homes were large garbage bins under the freeway. Once, when the children’s adoptive mother, Ollie Woods, was driving down Oracle, Natalie and Alex pointed out which bins they had spent the night in.
Natalie watched her natural mother drink, argue with boyfriends, and be abused. And Natalie was neglected and abused, says Woods.
Natalie, 10, wrote the following shortly after she moved to Woods’ home in 1994. Woods was her foster mother until January of this year, when she officially adopted Natalie and her brother.
“On August the tenth 1994 I had the chance to live with the Best Mom. At first I thought she looked a little mean. The first week I got spoiled everyone in our house was spoiled. The best mom was Ollie Woods. She was the nices, butefulest mom in the world. There was no other mom like her!’
QUESTIONS ABOUT ADOPTION
* Who are the children?
More than half are African-American, Hispanic, Native American or multiracial. Many have experienced neglect, abuse or abandonment and are burdened with emotional and behavioral challenges. The majority are 5 to 17 years old. Many have brothers and/or sisters and hope to be adopted with them.
* How much does it cost?
The only costs are the court’s filing fee and fingerprinting fees – less than $100. These expenses could be eligible for government reimbursement.
* Is it for married couples only?
No, both singles and couples can adopt.
* Is there an age limit?
No, though you must be at least 21 years old. You must, however, be physically and mentally capable of caring for a child.
* Is home ownership necessary?
No. You need a stable living arrangement with enough space for a child.
* Can both parents work?
Yes, though child care may need to be provided for the child.
* How long does it take?
This can vary, though generally the process can be completed within 18 months, which includes a six-month period of living with the child before the adoption is final.
- Arizona Children’s Home
For information about adoption or the Arizona Children’s Home’s Building Bridges program, call Tricia Tillman at 622-7611.