Julie Weigel said there is no difference between loving a biological child and an adopted child.
"Once they are with you, they are your own," she said.
She and her husband,
, three years ago adopted their first child, Katja, and adopted her biological sister, Emma, the next year. She said their two adopted children are never apart from their biological daughter. "They are all sisters."
"We always had a burden on our heart for the so many children that need love and support," Julie Weigel said. "We wanted to open our home to as many of them as we could."
The Weigels, like 70 percent of adoptive parents, were first foster parents; they worked through the state
Department of Families and Children
's adoption process.
The Weigels are surprised that more people don't adopt locally.
"It is a long process but the incentives are wonderful," Julie Weigel said. "People don't realize that you don't have to pay a penny."
But state officials and child advocates recognize flaws in the system - flaws that can discourage even very loving foster parents from taking the big step of adoption.
Most child advocates agree that adoption typically improves the stability and quality of life for children who otherwise might move from foster home to foster home and often do poorly in school.
However, foster families are entitled to state assistance for such expenses as counseling for special needs children and financial support for college. Until this month, adoptive families were eligible for none of these things.
The state's handling of adoptions has been an issue in the past, but this year Gov.
M. Jody Rell
made it a top priority to deal with two major aspects that might discourage families from adopting.
"We want children to have a safe and secure home," Rell said in an interview. "No more shuffling children from home to home. This would give them a sense of stability and give us fewer clients."
Rell and the legislature addressed some barriers to adoption in the budget deal reached last month.
The budget, for instance, includes money to pay for the college education of adopted children, at a cost of $450,000 over the next two years. The price tag is expected to reach $521,000 by 2008.
"We don't want to lure people into adopting. We want to help those who are considering it," said
, deputy commissioner of the state Department of Families and Children. "Many children are in foster care and this is for children with a family not ready to take that next step to adopt because of the challenges. Some parents are afraid they won't be able to support them after adoption."
The new adoption incentives would only apply to children in DCF care, and not to children in private agencies, Taylor said. Most DCF children are victims of abuse or neglect. Right now, 868 children in Connecticut state services are awaiting adoption. Foster parents get a $700 to $800 monthly subsidy from the state.
Only children adopted this year would be eligible for the college tuition coverage. Under the new initiative, the tuition coverage would only be available to college students who had been under state care; the state would pay $13,000 per year, which is enough to attend the
University of Connecticut
or a state institution; and parents would pay $500 per year to get the tuition coverage.
The Weigels took a nine-week training course through DCF to begin the adoption process. The classes were once a week for three hours and touched on things like the child's emotional state and practical aspects of their care.
The parents-to-be filled out pages and pages of personal information and went through lengthy interviews and background checks. They also had to have their house inspected.
DCF offered them post-adoption classes and assigned a case worker who checked in on them often and answered their questions.
"They have been so close and very willing to help and listen," Christoph Weigel said of DCF workers.
Additional DCF services for adoptive parents are long overdue, said
, executive director of the
Connecticut Association for Foster
and Adoptive Parents, an advocacy group.
The state has 4,600 special-needs children in adoptive homes now. On the downside, most of those children were from abusive homes and suffer from mental and behavioral disorders.
Their new families are not always ready to handle these problems without specialized help, Fiorito said.
"In the last few years, the policy was, you adopt a child, you're on your own," Fiorito said. "That's not true of kids. Early abuse and neglect lasts a lifetime. If a child has mental illness that is hereditary, it may not show up for a while."
Though social workers assist the families for up to a year after an adoption, that often is not enough, Fiorito said.
The new policies call for the state to establish a long-term commitment to provide support to the adoptive families. For example, if adoptive parents felt scared or threatened by their new child's violent behavior, they could call the DCF for immediate referrals to a therapist that would assess the family's needs and help them find help that most appropriately suits them.
About 30 percent to 40 percent of foster children have physical or mental illnesses, according to the
Child Welfare League of America
. Children in foster care have poor attendance rates in school, fall behind in math and reading, are more likely to repeat a grade and are more likely to be in special education, according to the CWLA.
"A lot of states do not fund post-adoptive services and that's unfortunate," said
, spokeswoman for the CWLA. "This would help make sure an adopted child stays put and the family is not disrupted."
For the foster children who are able to overcome those obstacles and succeed in school, some families had to make a tough choice between higher education and the stability that comes with adoption.
"I have heard from several foster parents who said they would not adopt because their child would lose out on tuition from the state," Fiorito said. "How sad is it to make a kid wait until he is 23 years old to adopt, so he can get through college? That has happened."
College tuition was a key reason that inspired Rell to make adoption a priority.
"In New Haven, I met a man who introduced me to his daughter, Jill," Rell recalled. "Then he said it's not really his daughter because he can't adopt her legally because she wants to go to college and the state won't offer assistance if she's adopted."
Delaware, Florida, Kentucky, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Oregon, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia have some type of college tuition waiver or scholarship program for foster and adopted children, according to the
North American Council of Adoptable Children
, a St. Paul, Minn., advocacy group.
Only half of foster children finish high school and only 11 percent go to college or seek post secondary education, according to the NACAC. So adoption is an important tool to get students into higher education.
When the U.S. Congress passed the Adoption and Safe Families Act in 1997, requiring states to place children in adoptive homes more quickly, the number increased in 35 states. The number of adopted children increased in Connecticut from 31,000 to 50,000 between 1997 and 2000, according to the Washington-based Adoption Institute.
Christoph Weigel said it was nice to help people locally.
"We got to help children that were local and make an impact locally," he said. "Foster children are today's orphans and they need to be helped."
Contact Fred Lucas
or at (203) 731-3358.