Growing number of older AL children seek adoption

Published: Nov. 26, 2015 at 3:17 AM CST|Updated: Dec. 3, 2015 at 10:17 PM CST
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Antonio Berkstresser, 13, was adopted by a Wetumpka family (Source: WSFA 12 News)
Antonio Berkstresser, 13, was adopted by a Wetumpka family (Source: WSFA 12 News)
(Source: WSFA 12 News)
(Source: WSFA 12 News)

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Thanksgiving is traditionally when families gather to enjoy each other's company and during National Adoption Month in November, organizations are shedding light on the fact that there are hundreds of Alabama children who want nothing more than to be part of a loving family.

Alabama Pre/Post Adoption Connections (APAC) is highlighting the need for the adoption of older youth who are in foster care. There are more than 330 children waiting to be adopted in Alabama and of those, 250 do not have an identified adoptive resource. They are living in foster home or group homes.

"They want to be adopted. They want what we all want. They want a family. They want someone who will love them unconditionally. They want someone who will be there to support them during bad times and good times," said APAC recruiter Susan Moss.

The Berkstresser family in Wetumpka adopted 13-year-old Antonio last year, joining Amanda and Jim and their two biological children. Antonio lived in 16 different places before moving in with the Berkstressers.

"We had a few bumps along the way but within about a six month adjustment period, Antonio settled in. He started feeling at home and we started really bonding. We feel like he's just become part of the family and we couldn't love him more," Amanda said.

"Once he realized that we were not giving up on him, he started to adjust really well," her husband, Jim, added.

Seeing what Antonio has been through has humbled their biological children, according to the couple, and they have expressed a desire for the family to adopt again. Amanda and Jim feel it's most rewarding when Antonio recognizes their home as his home and calls them mom and dad, a sign that he's accepted the permanency of his situation after living in different foster home settings and facilities.

"My children are seeing how they can help another person and change their life and what a blessing we can be to someone else and they want to do it again," Amanda said. "It's not about what the child might do for your family or how they may impact your family but what you can do for another child. We are encouraging families not to be scared to adopt an older child."

The family has relied on their faith, friends, family and other resources like APAC during their journey through adoption

APAC is a collaborative effort between Children's Aid Society and the Alabama Department of Human Resources and recruits for children 5 & up, sibling groups and children with special needs. They provide support to families before, during and after they've adopted a child and offer free counseling services, library resources and family support groups.

According to APAC, older youth who are adopted from foster care are more likely to finish high school, go to college, and be more emotionally secure than their peers who remain in, or age out of foster care. Studies of youth who have aged out from foster care show that up to 50 percent of them become homeless and have limited access to employment or higher education.

Susan Moss says that's why finding permanent, loving families for them is so important.

"Once these child age out of the system, if they have no family support, one in four will be incarcerated and one in five will become homeless and that is a problem for society," she added. "We do not need to let that happen. These kids are not looking for a perfect parent. They're just looking for a parent who will love them unconditionally."

Last year in Alabama, more than 500 children were adopted out of foster care in Alabama. Approximately 5000 children are in the care or custody of the Department of Human Resources.

Families interested in adopting can call 1-866-4-AL-KIDS. The adoption process includes Group Preparation and Selection (GPS) class, a 10-week course that prepares families to accept a child. A home study is also done and then the match begins.

For families in the Wiregrass, an adoption informational meeting is going to be held Monday December 14th at 6 p.m. at Calvary Baptist Church in Dothan.

Profiles of children waiting to be adopted can be viewed by clicking here.

"At Thanksgiving, we have these family traditions that we pass down to our children and it's just so important that while you give thanks this year, that there are some children right here who don't have forever homes, forever families for those traditions to be passed down to," Moss added.

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