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Blacks Open Homes to Foster Children

Million Man March spurs more families to consider adopting kids stuck in state system

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IN a roomful of red and green balloons, five-year-old Joshua Shepard clutches a bag of popcorn and restlessly awaits his turn on Santa's lap. "I want a motorcycle," says the kindergartner in shiny black shoes and a green pin-stripe suit.

But the gift needed most by Joshua and the 200 other African-American children at the recent holiday party here is neither a toy nor a teddy bear but a loving, permanent home. The youngsters are among the roughly 75,000 of the 450,000 children in the burgeoning US foster-care system who are unable to return to their birth parents and seek to be adopted.

Buoyed in part by the Million Man March by black men in Washington on Oct. 16, efforts to find homes for children like Joshua are intensifying. Social workers, adoption counselors, and child-welfare experts interviewed in several US cities report anecdotal evidence of a surge in interest in adoption by African-American families.

For example, more than 4,600 people so far have responded by telephone to A Fistful of Families, an adoption campaign promoted at the march.

"Without a doubt, the response since the march has been the biggest we've had," says Leonard Dunston, president of the National Association of Black Social Workers, which is running the campaign. "Everywhere I go, there are groups developing projects. Within six to seven months, you'll see some profound gains."

More people are also volunteering to recruit families for adoption or to act as mentors to waiting children. "After the march, I stepped up to see if I could make a difference," says Stan McKinney, a businessman and mentor to black boys in the new, Chicago-area Village Investment adoption project.

Enormous need

Still, the number of children in need is daunting. Tens of thousands of youngsters like Joshua pour into the foster-care system every year, while far fewer leave.

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