A View from the Hill
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 15, 2000
CONTACT: Tommy Voltero (617) 722-2240
A HOLIDAY GIFT TO REMEMBER
Every holiday season, we spend hours on end looking for that "perfect gift" for the ones we love. Lunch breaks and weekend leisure time soon become devoted to wandering the aisles of malls and department stores, listening to clerks tell you that they just ran out of the glow-in-the-dark alarm clock/stereo/vacuum cleaners that you really wanted to get for your mom. As the imminent shopping deadline gets closer and closer, people soon adopt a "take no prisoners" approach to find the remaining gifts on their lists (last year, my lucky mother was the proud recipient of a case of motor oil and a volleyball set).
Some say that in all of this bustle and commotion, the true meaning of the holiday season becomes distorted. We should not focus so much on what we buy people, they say, but rather how we treat each other. After all, the holiday season is supposed to be about kindness, goodwill, and sharing.
One gift idea that will satisfy both sides of the argument is the "gift of family." Nationwide, we have roughly 520,000 children in foster care. Of these, almost 120,000 are eligible for adoption. Believe it or not, there are over 1000 children in Massachusetts who are in need of permanent families. These kids, along with the 10,000 others living in foster care in our state, anxiously await the day when a loving family takes them home for food.
In Massachusetts, the agency responsible for managing our state's foster care and adoption services is the Department of Social Services (DSS). DSS has the difficult task of removing children from parents or caregivers deemed unfit by the state and placing them in loving homes. The majority of DSS children are taken from their abusive homes before the age of 5, and 64% belong to a minority group. Many of these kids have suffered abuse or neglect, and have been exposed to drugs, alcohol, or violence at a tender age.
Just last week, the Boston Globe published an article suggesting that child abuse and neglect can cause "adverse physical changes in the brain." The most significant effect is that the left and right sides of the brain have difficulty communicating, thus making the child seem overanxious or depressed. According to the article, early intervention and treatment can possibly reverse, although not erase, the damage done to the child. A loving foster or adoptive family can certainly play a significant role in alleviating the distress of an abused child and providing him or her with a healthy environment in which to grow.
Once a family or an individual has decided to help a child in need, there are several options available.
Some people are not ready to care for a child on a long-term basis, and thus choose to become foster parents. Foster parents take in children who are either waiting for adoption or need a safe place to stay while their parents get back on their feet. DSS provides a variety resources to foster parents, assigning both a social worker and a foster care worker to every child, offering a 24-hour hotline for questions or concerns, arranging for respite care when a break is needed, and supplying a daily stipend to defray living expenses.
Adoption is for those parents who are looking for a greater commitment. There are several steps in adopting a child, from selecting an agency to final placement, encompassing a time span of about one to five years. Potential adoptive parents must also consider the costs involved when thinking about adding a new member of the family. Although DSS does not charge fees for its services, private adoption agencies can cost up to $50,000 (although some fees are waived in certain circumstances).
Despite the difficulties in adoption, there is always help available. DSS assigns an adoption worker to each potential adoptive family to assist them at every point along the way. DSS also offers post-adoptive services and the Legislature provides the department with funding for adoption subsides for certain children with special needs. Some adopted children are eligible for full medical care along with free tuition at any Massachusetts state college. All of these services help to make the whole process easier for both parents and children.
A final choice for people who simply are unable to take a child into their homes is contributing to the DSS Kids Fund. Created in 1999 to serve as a support system for abused and neglected kids, the Kids Fund provides children with clothing, books, food, and gifts for special occasions. Tax-deductible donations to the Fund also pay for several youth programs run by DSS such as summer camp, music lessons, and literacy campaigns. Even a small contribution can make a big difference in the life of a child in need.
Children who have been helped by others never forget the generosity bestowed upon them. Adopted children, for example, often look back on the day of finalization in court as the happiest day in their lives. Foster children remember the strength and courage given to them by their foster parents in a time of personal crisis. The child who learns to play the piano through a Kids Fund program retains a talent that will last forever. So this year, as you finish up your holiday shopping, please consider a gift that will truly keep on giving long after the Menorah and Christmas lights have been put away. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
For information about adoption and foster care, please call 1-800-KIDS-508.
To make a donation to the Kids Fund, please call (617) 748-2368