Hearts Without Homes
Exhibit shows portraits of children waiting for adoption
Patti Sells | News-Telegram Feature Editor

Patty Osborn (left), information specialist for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, and Denice Grugle, Heart Gallery producer, work together to bring a unique art experience featuring photographs that capture the personalities and spirits of older and minority foster children and sibling groups that are waiting to be adopted. More than 19,000 foster children “age-out” of the system every year without ever getting their “forever family.”
Staff Photo By Patti Sells

Oct. 14, 2005 -- It’s one thing to talk about the thousands and thousands of unwanted children in the United States waiting to be adopted. It’s another when someone puts a face on the problem.

While their smiles reveal hope, their eyes often expose heartbreak and a deep desire for a family to call their own. By using the power of photography, the Heart Gallery of East Texas presents a unique and creative approach for finding homes for area foster children by using a stirring compilation of photographs on display at First United Methodist Church, 301 Church St., through Sunday, Oct. 16. 

�Every child deserves a family,� said Patty Osborn, information specialist for Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, a partner in the exhibit. �These children desperately need and want to find their �forever family.��

�Heart Gallery exhibitions focus on older and minority children and sibling groups, considered to be �harder to place,� according to Osborn.�

Statistics show that nearly 130,000 children in the U.S. public system are waiting to be adopted. Most of them are 8 years old or older. Figures indicate that a boy over the age of 9 has about an 80 percent chance of spending the rest of his childhood (until age 18) in foster care, while girls after the age of 11 reach that same percentage. Reports go on to state that 19,000 children “age-out” of the system every year without ever being adopted. 

In 2001, an adoption recruiter in New Mexico, Diane Granito, had become displeased with these staggering numbers and the process by which foster children’s pictures were taken and presented to prospective parents, saying that, “all the children looked the same.”

She single-handedly took on the task of changing that process. She contacted every photographer she heard of and asked them if they would be willing to volunteer their expertise in helping capture the spirit and personality of each individual child in hopes of giving potential families a true sense of the child they were considering for adoption. 

Since that time, with the help and creativity of volunteer photographers both professional and amateur from across the nation, as well as the generous support of individuals and organizations, the Heart Gallery exhibits have resulted in thousands of requests for information. Adoptions among these “hard to place” children has shown a significant increase by proving successful in dozens of cities and states, including Connecticut, Ohio, Oklahoma, Washington, Florida and more recently, Texas. 

The Heart Gallery’s unique strategy for finding homes for America’s foster children has been featured in People magazine and The New York Times, and on MSNBC, CNN, ABC World News Tonight and the Today Show. 

�We�re not marketing children,� stated Granito in an article. �We�re marketing adoption as a positive alternative for families.�

��The more information we can give families through videos, photographs and articles that we write about these kids, the better chance they have to get to know them, and the less likely they are to take home the wrong child,� said Denice Grugle, who has been instrumental in organizing and bringing the Heart Gallery to East Texas.�

Grugle, who was raised with an adopted big sister, is the publisher of the East Texas magazines “Bride and Beyond” and “As They Grow ... “

�She said when she first heard about the Heart Gallery while snow skiing in New Mexico in January, she immediately felt a pressing desire to become involved with the program and bring it to East Texas where she lives and works.�

�It�s something that I had to do,� she said. �This was just kind of my calling. Some people say they get that calling from God to be in ministry. This is my ministry. This is my calling. �

�Grugle said once she became aware of Heart Gallery, its purpose and what it involved, she realized she already knew how to do everything it would take to organize a successful Heart Gallery of East Texas.�

�It�s almost like I have been trained specifically for this,� Grugle explained. �I know all the right people and photographers. I know how to do everything it takes to pull this off. And I think it�s everybody�s duty to help if they can, whether it is to help hurricane victims, foster children or whatever.�

�Grugle knows from personal experience what blessings adoption can bring to entire families.�

�I can�t imagine my life without my sister,� she said. �She has taught me so much, and everything I do amazes her. She�s my cheerleader.�

�Since becoming involved with the Heart Gallery, Grugle, who has two children of her own, says she and her husband plan to take parenting classes and training courses that will allow them to foster and adopt a child.�

�There are too many homeless kids out there who need families,� she said.�

According to both Grugle and Osborn, adoption is easier and less expensive than people imagine. And in most cases, it takes the same amount of time as a full-term pregnancy -- without all the discomfort and medical expense. 

�It does take approximately nine months to go through the process,� explained Osborn. �But it is really not difficult to adopt. And as for the question of how much does it cost, the answer is �nothing.���

Families interested in adopting or fostering a child would start by attending informational meetings, or orientations, that discuss the scope and requirements of being a foster or adoptive parent. 

The next step is to choose an agency, either private or the state. 

�Private agencies do it a little different, but we all have basically the same guidelines to follow,� Osborn explained. �These agencies would then talk to families to make sure they have the type of child they are looking for.�

�After orientation, information packets are sent out, as well as forms to sign up for the parenting classes and training course. If those are returned, letters are then sent out inviting them to various classes.�

�All foster and adoptive families go through mandatory training classes that take 30 hours to complete,� said Osborn, who added that faith-based programs are offered through churches that can be done in less time, but continue into other phases of the process.�

�The state does everything up front, then you�re through with it,� Osborn said.

�The training classes are meant to teach families more about the children they have available, and assess parents� strengths and weaknesses in caring for abused and neglected children. According to Grugle, the longer a child has been in foster care, the more emotional needs they are likely to have.�

�You�re dealing with sometimes physical, but more often, emotional and behavioral problems,� explained Osborn, whose own parents have fostered 29 children. �The longer a child has been in care, the more moves they likely have made, and that�s just so unsettling. Consequently, they are not going to be very good at trusting.�

�The fourth step in the process is a home study. Background checks will be done, and a caseworker will visit the home. The purpose is to discuss personal history, family interests and lifestyle, child-care experiences, the types of children the applicants feel would best fit in their home, and their strengths and skills in meeting the children�s needs. Basic requirements and policies are covered in a 25-page booklet that asks lots of questions, according to Osborn.�

�There is no fee until you hire an attorney,� explained Grugle. �And then you get that back. There is virtually no expense when dealing with the state. Everything is covered.�

�According to Osborn, foster parents get reimbursed for expenses, and adoptive families of �hard to place� children are eligible for subsidies, which means a monetary monthly payment to help families with extra expenses, Medicaid and an amount up to $1,500 for �non-reccurring expenses,� (attorney�s fees, in other words). Even tuition costs at state colleges are waived for adopted children who fall into the category of �hard to place.��

�Adoption is a commitment of your time and love,� said Osborn. �We want good families for our kids. With these older children it is a bit different. They need someone who can be their friend, and give them the guidance they need. They desperately want a family to call their own.�

�Just like all kids, these children need to learn love, ethics and morals,� said Grugle. �And forgive me, but I�m sorry, I just don�t think the state, as their parents, can give them those things. I believe there is a perfect family out there for every child, and the perfect child is out there for every family. If we can keep the Heart Gallery unique, abstract and off the wall, we�re going to be able to keep the media�s and public�s interest. And that means the more homes we are going to find for these children.�

For more information about the Heart Gallery of East Texas, log on to:

www.easttexasheartgallery.com

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