TALKING IT OVER
November 25, 1998
This week, I witnessed a miracle -- actually 30 miracles. On Tuesday, here at the White House, I met 30 children who woke up in the morning as foster children but went to bed that night as members of permanent, loving families.
I met 12-year-old Charday Mays. She and her brother, Steven, who is 11, have lived in many different foster homes. But on Tuesday, both children were adopted by Edward and Rochelle Mays. Charday says, "This Thanksgiving, Steven and I have so much to be thankful for. We are now officially part of a family. That makes me very, very happy."
Ellen Wells had tears in her eyes as she described how it felt to finally adopt 8-year-old Jessica. When she moved in with Ellen, Jessica had just turned 7 -- and had lived in seven foster homes. That first day, Jessica sat down at the table and asked, "So, after this house, where do I have to go?" Ellen was dumbstruck. She says, "I understood that I was forever. Jessica did not." On Tuesday, as Jessica happily munched cookies with the other children, her eyes told the story. Now, she knows that Ellen is her mother -- forever.
Jessica, Charday and Steven were at the White House as part of Washington, D.C.'s 12th annual Adoption Day, a day when the city's Superior Court judges invite a number of families to finalize their adoptions together in celebration of National Adoption Month and as an inspiration to others to consider adopting. I was pleased to host this year's event at the White House.
In addition to the new families, we were joined by Washington, D.C.'s Mayor-elect, Anthony Williams, and Dave Thomas, founder of the Wendy's restaurant chain, both of whom were adopted. Williams was 3 when his mother took him in. Foster-care officials warned her that, because he had not yet spoken his first word, he would be trouble and never amount to anything. Today, he says with a grin, "I was some trouble, but I did amount to something."
Thomas, adopted at 6 weeks, is one of this country's leading adoption advocates. This week, he challenged corporate America to extend maternity benefits to adoptive parents.
Judge Eugene Hamilton presided over the ceremony. He and his wife, Virginia, have cared for 40 foster children in their home over the past 20 years, adopting two of them. He noted, "I hope the commitment we see here today will inspire many others to come forward."
The President, who shares this hope, has set a national goal to double the number of adoptions and permanent placements in this country by the year 2002. A year ago, in order to move toward that goal, he signed the Adoption and Safe Families Act, which reformed our nation's child welfare system, making it clear that the health and safety of children come first.
The Act shortened the time it takes to make permanent placement decisions for children, guaranteed health insurance coverage for special-needs children, created new financial incentives for states to increase adoptions and funded services to keep families together when appropriate.
In addition, the President provided parents the opportunity to take time off to adopt a child by signing the Family and Medical Leave Act. And he has worked to end discrimination and delays based on race and ethnicity and created tax breaks to make it easier for families to adopt.
But although adoptions in this country have increased in the last year, there are still too many children who don't have permanent and safe families. Our job is not done.
For each of the 30 wonderful children who were adopted on Tuesday, there are 100 more just like them still in D.C.'s foster-care system. Nationwide, there are 100,000 children waiting to be adopted.
So, this week, the President asked Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala to devise a plan for a national, Internet-based registry of eligible foster children. Simply telling their stories and showing their pictures can go far in placing children in permanent homes. According to one advocate, this "is the single most important thing we can do to find homes for kids."
Every child deserves a safe and permanent family. At Thanksgiving, every child deserves to know that there is a seat waiting at the table -- in good times and in bad. And every child deserves to know that the table will be filled not only with food but also with laughter and with love.
I know that this Thanksgiving will be special for Charday, Jessica, Steven and every one of the other 27 children I met this week. As I celebrate the holiday with my family, I will pray that next Thanksgiving every other child who needs a permanent and loving family will have one.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.
To find out more about Hillary Rodham Clinton and read her past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.
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