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September 29, 1999

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September 29, 1999

For more than 25 years, as an advocate and an attorney, I have worked to address the challenges of foster care and adoption. I've represented foster children and their prospective parents in court, and I've sought changes in laws that discourage adoptions.

I've listened to social workers, judges, police officers and parents frustrated by the red tape that so often keeps them from sharing their lives with the children who badly need their love. And I've listened to the children themselves -- children who have spent the precious years of their childhoods feeling alone and unloved, moving from home to home.

Since my husband was elected, we have worked together to devise a strategy to reform the foster care system in this country. Giving every child the chance to live in a stable and secure environment -- to have a permanent and loving home -- has been at the heart of our efforts.

The first bill my husband signed into law was the Family and Medical Leave Act, which helps new parents, including adoptive parents, carve out the time they need to care for their new children. The President also signed and strengthened the Multiethnic Placement Act, which put an end to racial discrimination in adoption.

We have made adoptions more affordable, putting in place tax credits for new adoptive families. And we're taking steps to use the Internet more effectively to help match waiting children with loving homes.

In 1996, we set an ambitious national goal -- to double the number of children adopted annually, from 28,000 to 56,000, by the year 2002. In order to meet this goal, we worked with members of Congress to pass bipartisan legislation that dramatically reduced the amount of time children spend in foster care. Under this bill, for example, no child waits longer than 12 months -- down from 18 months -- before a court considers permanent placement. The Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 also removed barriers to adoption, and for the first time, provided financial incentives to encourage states to increase the number of children adopted each year.

Last week, we were pleased to receive a report from the Department of Health and Human Services indicating that our strategy -- and these laws -- are working. For the first time since the foster care program was created 20 years ago, the number of adoptions from the system has risen dramatically. In fact, since 1996, the total number of adoptions has risen 29 percent. Last week, the President awarded adoption incentive bonuses, totaling $20 million, to 35 states -- including Illinois, where placements more than doubled -- for their exceptional achievement.

But there's more we need to do.

Under current law, foster children who turn 18 are forced to leave the system, without the support they might need to make the transition to independence. With broad bipartisan support, the House of Representatives has passed a bill that would allow these young people to remain on Medicaid until the age of 21, and give them extra help in finishing high school, going to college, and finding work and a place to live. It's time for the Senate to pass a companion bill for the President to sign.

Every time I need inspiration for our fight to strengthen and increase adoption in America, I think of Deanna Collins. Four years ago, with her eyes downcast and her shoulders slumped forward, Deanna stood at a podium in the East Room of the White House. In a quiet voice, she told the audience about her dream of living in a place she could call home, with a room of her own, and a family she could love.

Not long after that visit, Deanna's dream came true, and it's been my privilege to watch as adoption has transformed her life. With the love of her parents and the confidence that comes from knowing she will always have a place to call home, she is thriving. A senior in high school, she plans to go to college next year and major in social work.

I think of Sue and Hector Badeau, who have adopted 22 children. I think of Virginia Williams who, many years ago, opened her heart and her home to a 3-year-old boy who had been declared unadoptable and was institutionalized by his state. Today, that boy is the mayor of Washington, D.C., Anthony Williams.

Finally, I think of Dawn Keane, who with her husband, Steve, adopted two children last May. Last week at the White House, she said, "Families who have adopted know that these children are special gifts from God, and that they enrich our lives in more ways than we could ever have imagined. I know that there are more than 100,000 children in the country still waiting to find families. Our hope is that all of these children can become someone's special gift."

That is my hope as well.

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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