WASHINGTON – Teens are not the only group of foster kids that have a tough time getting adopted in Maryland — mentally retarded wards face grim prospects, too.
But a Capital News Service analysis of foster care adoptions in Maryland shows that, while mentally retarded children are still among the least-likely to be adopted, the rate of permanent placement for those children has grown much faster than the rate for foster teens.
“Sometimes there is more compassion for those (mentally retarded) children than for an adolescent who doesn’t have that label,” said Leonard Guedalia, a psychologist who has counseled foster children and their adoptive parents.
According to the National Data Archive on Child Abuse and Neglect, only 2 of the state’s 357 mentally retarded children were adopted in fiscal 1998 — a 0.56 percent adoption rate. That same year, just 13 of the state’s 3,590 foster kids age 15 and older were adopted, a permanent placement rate of 0.36 percent.
Two years later, seven of the state’s 385 mentally retarded foster care children were adopted, a rate of 1.8 percent, while the number of teens adopted stood at 30 of the 4,628 older teens in the system, a rate of 0.65 percent.
“Any adolescent, whether it’s your own child or an adopted child, is going through the most difficult stage of development . . . but when kids are developmentally delayed, we have sympathy for them and say it’s not their fault,” said Guedalia, who is in private practice in Bethesda.
And mentally retarded foster kids’ chances of adoption may improve still. State officials said they made the group a priority during a recent adoption campaign and will continue to do so in the future.
“We’ve had a major push to get kids adopted,” said Department of Human Resources spokeswoman Erlene Wilson.
The initiative began in February 2002 with public relations messages like “Good People Don’t Just Happen,” and it improved placement prospects for many foster kids across the state.
DHR adoption manager Stephanie Pettaway conceded that some kids are more difficult to place than others.
“It is harder” to place adolescent foster kids, Pettaway said. “People usually want younger children rather than teenagers.”
But Pettaway said state adoptions coordinators are committed to finding homes for all of Maryland’s foster children.
“We have done a lot of work, not just with the families, but also with the staff . . . talking about the fact that all children are adoptable and that all children deserve a forever family,” said Pettaway, who provided oversight for the initiative.