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Placing the `hard-to-place' child. Agencies help connect parents and `special needs' children

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When I first found out my mother gave me up for adoption, my whole heart was shattered. It really hurt bad; I was depressed for a long time. Tara is one of 39,000 children in the United States who wait to be adopted. Articulate, vivacious, likable, she's all that a parent could hope for, yet she's difficult to place. At 13 she's defined as a ``special needs child,'' a category that includes all youngsters 12 and older, siblings, those of a minority race, and those having a mild to severe emotional, educational, or physical handicap.

In the world of adoption, where the light-skinned infant is a prized possession even for fees ranging from $5,000 to $10,000, many wonderful youngsters like Tara are never even considered.

And some who do seek older children complain that the legal system prevents easy access to them. Adoptive parents frequently take a child, unsure of the adoption becoming final.

``Some states are required to try to preserve family units,'' explains Joyce Johnson of the Child Welfare League in Washington. That requirement can keep children from becoming readily available for adoption. ``Also,'' she says, ``as long as a parent who may have a problem is being treated, a child may never become free. Some think quick adoption is the answer, but these kids have families and the older ones have bonds with their parents.''

``Older kids especially have solid family recollections,'' says Linda Spears, director of the Massachusetts Department of Social Services (DSS), ``and must deal with the fact that their natural parents are still there, close by, but can't keep them.''

The shifting around in temporary care that's common to children like Tara, as well as to her younger brother and sister, greatly complicates their lives. During five years spent in foster care, for example, Tara has lived in six different homes.

``It's hard making friends in a half a year of school, and then I have to move and start all over,'' she says. ``I feel so scared that I might do something wrong, and sometimes I have terrible troubles with friends.'' She pauses, grasping her slender hands as she swallows down the start of tears.

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