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A Child Is Waiting on the Internet

October 13, 1995|DAVID COLKER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

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Timor is a cute red-headed little boy from Russia. He has no physical or mental handicaps and single parents will be considered as well as parents over 40.

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Click.

Bobby Jo is diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder having to do with past abuse. Bobby Jo would like a two-parent family because she has always wondered what it would be like to have a father.

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Click.

Valentina has been diagnosed with alcohol fetopathy, microcephaly and has some psycho-speech delays. She needs a consistent and nurturing family to care for her.

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Internet pundits have long promised that one day almost everything would be available online. Maybe they were right. Now via the Internet, you can get a child.

"Our mission is to find a home for these children, and this gives us a whole new world of potential families to tap into," said Peggy Soule, executive director of Children Awaiting Parents, a Rochester, N . Y . -based nonprofit group that co-sponsors the site Faces of Adoption.

The site currently contains the pictures and descriptions of 69 children eligible for adoption throughout the country.

At least two other sites maintain similar listings. Dare to Love, sponsored by the Texas Adoption Resource Exchange, lists children living in that state. And Precious in HIS Sight, which takes its title from the lyrics of the song "Jesus Loves the Little Children," was created by a woman in Waco, Tex., to provide photo listings of hundreds of adoptable children living outside the United States.

These sites are available to anyone who has access to the World Wide Web on the Internet, which allows you to use your mouse to click through page after page of listings. It can be a heartbreaking task. These sites exclusively feature children who have, in the terminology of the adoption community, special needs.

"They are older than the children most people want to adopt, or they have disabilities," said Marianne Clarke, executive director of the National Adoption Center in Philadelphia, the other sponsor of Faces of Adoption. "Maybe they have a brother or sister that has to be adopted along with them, or are from a minority culture. Whatever the reason, it's not always easy to find families for them."

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Derrick, born April, 1980, continues to look for a forever family who is flexible, compassionate and patient. Derrick has spent most of his life in foster care. He enjoys bike riding, sports, Nintendo games and summer camp. Derrick functions in the moderately mentally disabled range.

The National Adoption Center was founded in 1972 with the aim of putting special needs children and families together. "We started with a recipe box and 3-by-5 cards," said Clarke of the nonprofit organization that now has about 30 full-time staffers. It took a first step into the computer world several years ago when it began listing children, without pictures, on a computer bulletin board that could be accessed by adoption professionals.

Children Awaiting Parents began in 1969 with the aim of publishing a national photo listing in book form of special needs children.

To get on the Internet, the groups combined forces to obtain a two-year, $300,000 grant from the federal Department of Health and Human Services, plus a $50,000 contribution from the Dave Thomas Foundation. Their Internet site went online in August.

Information and pictures of the listees come from adoption agencies. "We get special permission from them to put their children on the Internet," Soule said. "The children have to have special needs, be eligible for adoption and be free to be placed across state lines."

She said some agencies have expressed concerns about privacy issues. "That's why we use no last names, no addresses for the children." A prospective parent who contacts the organizations about a listing is put in touch with the adoption agency or social worker handling that specific child. The caller pays no fee for the referral.

No matter how noble the aims of these Internet adoption sites, it's hard to escape feelings of discomfort when clicking through page after page of the photo listings. Soule agrees and does not shy away from calling it a "catalogue."

"There is no way around that," she said. "What we've said to people is, 'If we didn't have to do this, it would be wonderful. If there was a better way than photo listings to get to the public in hopes of finding homes for these children, we'd do it in an instant."

Reuben Pannor, the co-author of "The Adoption Triangle" (Anchor Press, 1978) and a prominent figure in adoption circles, recognizes the value of the Internet listings--within limits.

"I have mixed feelings," he said from his home in Los Angeles. "The positive part is that these children need to find homes, and this could help. But I think there is a big downside we have to recognize. All kinds of abuse are possible."

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