Deborah Lane, with a camera around her neck and a notebook in one hand, knelt on the grass and gently stroked the face of a 2-year-old boy.
"Oh, you're so cute. What's your name?" she asked, quickly snapping a photograph of the boy. The child shied away from her, but Lane seemed pleased. The 30-year-old Compton woman is going to become a mother soon and this child may just turn out to be her son.
At Victoria Park in Carson on Saturday similar scenes were repeated throughout the afternoon as about 400 prospective adoptive parents gathered to meet 150 black children who are up for adoption.
The Los Angeles County Department of Children's Services calls the annual picnic a "Black Adoption Festival" and sponsors it as a way to introduce potential parents to older and hard-to-place children, often with handicaps or backgrounds of abandonment and abuse.
About 33% of the children available for adoption from Children's Services are black, said Mollie Cooper, chief of the adoptions division. Because of a continuing number of black children who are relinquished to county care, she said, officials need to "recruit" adoptive families.
"These children can't stay under foster care all their lives," Cooper said. She expects that about 40 children will be adopted as a result of the Saturday event.
The children, dressed in bright blue T-shirts, were under the supervision of foster parents or social workers throughout the afternoon. Prospective parents are encouraged to play games with the children, eat hot dogs and ice cream with them and talk to the guardians about the child's disposition.
"We don't want the kids to be on display and we don't want anyone to feel under pressure," said Wini Jackson, a Children's Services spokeswoman. "What we do is market precious little lives."
When prospective adoptive parents register, they are given a folder to write down names of children they would be interested in adopting. Cooper said they are instructed not to overwhelm the children or ask them "insensitive" questions such as "Would you like to have a mommy or a daddy?"
Michael and Lillyan Holland, holding hands, walked timidly around a bulletin board and looked at photographs of smiling children, jotting down the names of several little boys.
They had arrived after a 70-mile trip from the Antelope Valley and said they were relieved to find a carnival-type atmosphere.
"I'm glad this isn't a rigid type of thing," Lillyan Holland said. "I'm so excited to see all these children. You look at these little faces and think this may be my son."
The Hollands have two children of their own, but Michael said "there's room for another and we wanted to do something good for a child."
Tears ran down the cheek of Arlene Newbott, 38, as she stood by while each child was being introduced on stage to the crowd.
Actor Ben Vereen, who hosted part of the event, called out the names of the youngsters. "This is Rodney. This is Brandon. How can you say no to Brandon?" he asked, holding the child up for all to see.
One boy, 7-year-old Victor spoke into the microphone, "Does anybody want to adopt me? I don't want to live all by myself."
Newbott had a list of about 12 girls she said she would inquire about.
"I'm single and 38 years old and just woke up one morning and decided I want a child," Newbott said. "I've been waiting for this day for weeks now. My heart is beating so fast when I see these children. They are all so adorable."