Traveling photo gallery showcases children available for adoption

Monday, July 28, 2008

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- It's just a small four-walled gallery of about 30 photographs, but it might prove to be a link between a child and a family.

The Missouri Adoption Heart Gallery sparked high interest during the week it was stationed in Columbia Public Library's entryway in early July. About 30 people inquired about adopting or becoming a foster parent, said Susan Jones, adoption specialist.

"We've been getting five or six calls a day," she said. "It's the most we've ever had."

The traveling adoption gallery showcases 228 Missouri children who need permanent homes.

In addition to adoptive and foster parents, the state also needs responsible adults to provide respite care for youngsters who temporarily need looking after.

Missouri has about 1,400 children waiting to be adopted. Only 5 percent of those children are 1 year old or younger; 25 percent are between 6 and 10 years of age; and 28 percent are between 11 and 15.

Older teens and sibling groups are typically the toughest to find homes for, said Sara Anderson, a spokeswoman for the Department of Social Services.

"I think the awareness of the need for more foster and adoptive parents comes out of the gallery," Anderson said. "I see it making a positive change overall, just letting people know if they're not ready to be foster or adoptive parents, there are other things they can do, even donating items like basic toiletries. A lot of time when they're taken out of foster care and brought into a new home, they don't have time to pack up their items. I'm hoping people see the need and that there are all kinds of ways to help these kids."

Since the Department of Social Services launched the Missouri Adoption Heart Gallery in 2006, about 100 children have found potential adoptive families, and more than 3,500 people have expressed interest in providing respite, foster or adoptive homes.

In fact, the program has been so successful, a southern Missouri circuit court that historically hasn't allowed photos to be taken of foster children has now agreed to participate in the gallery, Jones said.

She believes the professional pictures are the key to the program's success.

"The photographers are able to catch the personalities of these children," Jones said. "They're no longer just foster kids. All of a sudden, it's a boy who needs a home or a girl who likes whatever her interest might be. You feel like you know them."

After a week at the Columbia Public Library, the gallery moved to the Saline County Fair in Marshall.

The traveling exhibit will spend September and October in the St. Louis area before closing with a ceremony at the state Capitol in Jefferson City in November.

Those who can't make it to the photo gallery can check out portraits and biographies of the children online at www.moheartgallery.org.

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