GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. - In Mesa County, there are 300 to 350 children and youth in foster care at any given time.
Throughout the United States, more than 100,000 children and youth in the foster care system await permanent, loving homes.
November has been proclaimed National Adoption Month, to raise awareness about the adoption of children from foster care and to show appreciation to families who have provided homes to children in need.
In today's issue of the Free Press, two local families tell their story of how they added to their families and enriched their lives. The following article introduces readers to local agencies that provide foster care and/or adoption services.
Approximately 20 children each year in Mesa County become available for adoption through the Department of Human Services foster care system.
While 60 percent of children in foster care eventually returned to their biological families, in rare cases parental rights are terminated, leaving children who need permanent homes with loving adoptive parents.
"Our goal is to reunite children with their biological parents if it's safe," DHS spokesperson Karen Martsolf said. "Where courts have determined that the child cannot be reunited with the biological parents, those children become legally available to be adopted through our agency.
"We're really looking for foster parents who can be a liaison with biological families; who are willing to work with those families and encourage the reunification process."
Children who become available for adoption through DHS are typically harder to place, Martsolf said. They are generally older than 7, may have developmental, medical or other special needs. It's also likely they may be part of a sibling group or have ethnically diverse backgrounds.
"Sometimes we have sibling groups of three, four or five," Martsolf said. "We do everything we can to keep that sibling group together."
People who wish to adopt through DHS must first be certified as foster parents. Other requirements include having a stable income and being able to pass a criminal background check (this applies to all adults living in the home, not just the adoptive parent or parents).
Adoptive parents can be single, or married, home owners or renters - as long as the home is stable and passes inspection.
For more information about adoption services or becoming a foster parent, contact Dena Neujahr at 970-248-2818 or visit www.humanservices.mesacounty.us.
Ariel Clinical Services was founded in Grand Junction as a nonprofit foster care placement agency in 1994. The private nonprofit also became a licensed adoption agency this year, meaning it can facilitate both private adoptions and adoptions through foster care.
"The need for foster families is greater than we can keep up with," Ariel's foster care and adoption recruiter Kathy McCoy said. "We get calls every day. We place kids every day."
Ariel often receives calls for child placements from the Mesa County Department of Human Services, whose child protection team removes children from unsafe situations.
"Right now we really need homes for adolescents and sibling groups," McCoy said.
Children can be legally adopted through the foster care system in cases where parental rights have been terminated, McCoy said.
There are many reasons why parents lose their parental rights, but the number one reason is neglect and abuse, often stemming from drug abuse, McCoy said.
For more information about Ariel's foster care or adoption services, call McCoy at 970- 245-1616.
Bethany Christian Services, a global nonprofit founded in 1944, offers domestic and international adoption services, as well as foster-care placement of children.
"There's a huge orphan crisis in the United States," director of Western Slope services Briana Grossnickle said. "We fail to see it, as citizens, because we don't call them orphans. We call them foster kids."
In the U.S., kids without parents are placed in foster homes or in group homes that are staffed by different people throughout the day, Grossnickle said.
"There are a large number of children who emancipate from the system," Grossnickle said. "Most of us, after we turned 18, needed our parents for something. When we have nobody, that's when people end up in a shelter or homeless."
"We get two or three calls a week from Western Slope counties looking for foster-care placements," Grossnickle said. "We need foster parents so badly."
Oftentimes, children from the Western Slope end up being placed in foster homes on the Front Range - making it harder to reunite families or for struggling parents to visit their children, Grossnickle said.
"Our first goal is to reunite. We try and resolve issues that caused the child to be removed from the home," she said.
Grossnickle is the biological mother of three young boys, and an adoptive mother of a teenage girl she and her husband adopted last year. The girl was originally adopted from Russia when she was 10. When that adoption did not work out, the girl ended up in foster care. Grossnickle learned about the teenager through a friend.
"She's a senior in high school and doing very well," Grossnickle said. "She's amazing.
"We allow her to argue; tell her it's OK to get frustrated. The first three months she walked on eggshells - she did not want to offend.
"Then she started rolling her eyes - she's normal. We showed her this is forever. We told her 'we're not passing you on."
Bethany Christian Services can be reached at 970-589-8208.
Paula Freeman, a mother of four biological and three adopted children, founded Hope's Promise, a Christian adoption agency 22 years ago to help make adoption easier.
With offices in Grand Junction, Denver, Ft. Collins, Pagosa Springs and Colorado Springs, Hope's Promise facilitates domestic adoption of infants and international adoptions of children of any age. The nonprofit agency also offers embryo adoption - a new program where couples who have built their families through in vitro fertilization can give left-over embryos to couples to implant and carry to birth.
Like other child-placement programs, prospective couples go through a thorough screening process that includes a home study, criminal background checks, and financial and medical assessments of the adoptive family.
"Every aspect of life is examined," director of adoptions Beth Woods said.
Adoptions are not final until the child has resided with the adoptive parents for six months, during which time a social worker provides supervision.
The average wait period to adopt a baby is one to two years, but that varies as more birth moms choose the adoptive parents, Woods said.
Adrea and Sam Tilford (see main story) waited only five weeks, after they were approved by Hope's Promise.
"Much of the work we do is counseling women with unintended pregnancies," Woods said. "We discuss options and support the decision-making process. If they choose to parent, we help them make a parenting plan. If they want to make an adoption plan, we offer relinquishment counseling. And, they have the opportunity to choose the couple they'd like to adopt their child."
Both Hope's Promise and Bethany Christian Services require that adoptive parents of domestic infants follow the Christian faith. International adoptions, being a foster parent, and adoption through foster care does not have that requirement, however.
Hope's Promise can be reached at 970- 263-7771.