At an event held at the Long Island Children’s Museum in Garden City on Nov. 20, Nassau County’s Department of Social Services hosted an adoption ceremony to celebrate National Adoption Day. Judges Ellen R. Greenberg and Robin M. Kent, from a makeshift courtroom underneath the colorfully painted curtains on the museum’s event stage, finalized the adoptions of 22 children into 11 families.
Joseph Toles, an adoptive parent of five, and an alumnus of the county’s foster system, spoke at the event about feeling alienated as a child who didn’t have a traditional family. “It’s hard when nobody comes to your graduations,” he said. “It’s hard when someone asks where your family is.”
He was never adopted, and it always made him wonder. “Why didn’t anyone want me?” Toles said, adding that his own experience led him to adopt his five sons, including 13-year-old Cameron, whose adoption was finalized in August. “Everyone here today is getting an opportunity I didn’t have,” he told the families in the auditorium. “You have found each other, and your lives will never be the same again.”
Maria Lauria, children’s services director for the Department of Social Services, told the Herald that the road to adoption is long and sometimes winding. The first step involves a committee, which discusses whether the child should be removed from the care of their birth parent or parents. Nassau was one of the first counties in the state to conduct “blind removal meetings,” in which all identifying information like race, gender, zip code, etc., is eliminated from the discussion to remove any bias from the decision. Lauria said that in 2011, “We had some extreme disparities,” among the demographics of children approved for removal. By 2016, after about five years of the blind meetings, Lauria said, “There was a huge improvement.”
Some of the county’s other initiatives include pre-removal interventions, to help parents keep their kids when they’re on the edge of losing them, a therapy approach pioneered by Adelphi University, and a family court program called “Babies Can’t Wait,” which looks at cases involving children up to age 5 on a monthly basis, instead of once every few months, with the intent of getting younger kids back into the care of their biological parent, assuming they have made the changes necessary to care for their children.
According to county level data gathered by the state’s Office of Children and Family Services, in 2015, foster children spent an average of 66 days in foster care, and Lauria said that the majority do not end in adoptions. “Ultimately, she said, “the hope of foster care is re-unification” of the children with their birth-parents.
Lauria said that the emotional complexity of foster care often acts as a high barrier for entry. “It’s gruesome,” she said. “You’re talking about taking a kid into your home and loving them like their your child, and then, you hope, giving them back. It takes somebody with a tremendous amount of patience and objectivity, and commitment and love.”
In addition to the 22 children adopted last week, five more adoptions were expected to be finalized in the coming weeks, according to Lauria. Another 22 children are in their pre-adoptive homes, which means the parental rights of their biological parents have been terminated, and they are now living in foster homes that plan on adopting them pending a lengthy and sometimes unpredictable nine-month clearance process.
Seven children are legally prepared to be adopted, but are without what Lauria called an “adoptive resource,” a family to take them in permanently.