National Adoption Center celebrates 40 years finding homes

Joyce Mosley and Kevin, then 18 months, adopted through the center. ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer
Joyce Mosley and Kevin, then 18 months, adopted through the center. ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer
Posted: June 21, 2012

If 13-year-old Christian wrote a book about his life, the theme would be this: "No matter what predicament you are in, you can achieve whatever you want. Don't ever let anyone tell you that you can't."

What Christian, now living with a foster family, wants to achieve is what Kevin Mosley has had for nearly 40 years — a family that endures.

The two do not know each other, but they share at least one bond. The matchmaker that helped put the then-2-year-old Mosley together with his adoptive mother is the same one helping Christian find a permanent home.

The Philadelphia-based National Adoption Center, which was founded as the Delaware Valley Adoption Resource Exchange, celebrates its 40th anniversary next month. Over that time, it has served as an intermediary to help find permanent homes for 23,000 children in foster homes nationwide and 3,800 in the Philadelphia region. That's not 23,000 healthy, cooing babies whom prospective parents are tripping over to hug. The center's specialty is finding families for children considered harder to adopt because they are older or have a physical or emotional disability. The center's website, www.adopt.org, has photos and descriptions of children waiting to be adopted in Atlanta, Los Angeles, the Washington, D.C., area, New York, and Philadelphia. The website also includes an online course for foster parents wanting to adopt, a registry for adoption agencies, and an online space for people to post comments and photos and ask questions.

Locally, the Adoption Center of Delaware Valley, a nonprofit affiliated with the national center, holds "match parties" with children and prospective parents, and presents profiles of kids in newspapers (The Inquirer publishes the "Monday's Child" feature), on television, and at websites.

"There are no unwanted children, just unfound families," says Carolyn Johnson, repeating the motto of the nonprofit she founded.

Joyce Mosley, 65, was one of the first single women in Pennsylvania to adopt, according to the center. Her own mother raised Mosley and her four siblings alone, so she felt confident she could be a mom, too. In her Ardmore living room, framed photos of her mother, her siblings, and other family members fill two tables — and then there's the one of an 18-month-old Kevin, who looks dapper in a dark turtleneck and a white sweater vest. That 1970s-vintage photo, published in The Inquirer, was Mosley's introduction to the child who would become her son. Back then, a child Kevin's age was considered harder to adopt.

She wanted to help and, besides, there were those big, sad eyes looking up at her from the newspaper.

"I saw the picture and decided, there was my little boy."

Kevin, now 41 and 6 feet tall, looms over his 5-foot-2 adoptive mother. He doesn't think he looks sad in that picture — he still doesn't like to smile for the camera. He does appreciate growing up with Mosley in Ardmore and, for a few years, in Alexandria, Va. (where his mother had a job), places that were a world away from his biological family's home in a tough West Philadelphia neighborhood. He is grateful that his big adoptive family treated him as if he were born to them, that he went to good schools, took vacations, went to summer camp, got an undergraduate degree in sociology from Villanova University. Kevin now has three sons of his own, works in human resources like his mother Joyce, and is earning a master's degree in business administration from Strayer University.

The history of adoption reflects U.S. history: Between 1850 and 1900, state laws frequently required that families could adopt only children who shared their same religion; transracial adoptions were unimaginable. Now, the National Adoption Center has an initiative to encourage members of the gay, lesbian, and transgender community to adopt.

"The cultural revolutions on adoption and the family certainly mirrored larger cultural revolutions," says Ellen Herman, an author and history professor at the University of Oregon. She created the Adoption History Project website.

Mosley was in the middle of some of that change.

In the 1970s, she stood out as a single, African American woman trying to adopt a child. When adoption agency staffers thought of prospective parents, they usually were thinking of a white husband and wife.

"There was social workers' bias," Mosley says. "A lot of social workers were young, white women not long out of college, with no relative experience of judging whether an African American household was good for African American kids."

After adopting Kevin, Mosley banded with other African Americans interested in adopting and became part of a nationwide movement in which, Herman says, blacks educated social workers about black families and culture.

Johnson, who is now retired as the center's executive director, had her own encounter with cultural bias, beginning when she lived in Buffalo. The first child she adopted, Loie, lingered in a temporary setting because of her Iranian American heritage. That was 1967.

When Johnson, 69, and her family moved to the Philadelphia area in 1969, Johnson adopted a biracial baby, Gregory, after pressing the social worker to tell her about all the children who needed permanent homes. In the early 1970s, Dennis, a 16-month-old African American, joined the family.

About the time she adopted Gregory, Johnson asked a social worker why the all-white crowd at a meeting for interested parents, including Johnson, was not told about all children.

"She said she didn't want to push these children on people," says Johnson, who lives in Mount Airy. "I think she just had an assumption in her head that everybody wanted a baby that was like them and wanted as young a child as possible. … I was just really outraged that agencies were not telling the public. They were assuming that they knew who was adoptable."

As she pressed to get more attention paid to those children, agencies in the Philadelphia area began sharing information, written on 3-by-5 file cards, about youngsters waiting to be adopted and families wanting to adopt. Maybe by collaborating, agencies could make matches, and maybe, suggested one state employee involved in the project, Johnson could help them make matches. That's how she began finding homes for children — at her kitchen table, thumbing through those file cards. In 1972, Johnson established the Delaware Valley Adoption Resource Exchange, which became the National Adoption Center in the 1980s after the organization got a federal grant to work throughout the country. The Adoption Center of Delaware Valley is the regional organization affiliated with the national center.

Of the children the National Adoption Center has helped connect with families, about 65 percent have been boys and 35 percent girls. In the Philadelphia region in 2011, 65 percent of the children placed in adoptive homes were between the ages of 11 and 18; 30 percent were between 6 and 10; 5 percent were 5 and younger. Forty years ago, when the center started its work, the children were younger and had fewer emotional troubles, yet adoptive parents today get much more support than they did when Johnson and Mosley adopted their kids.

Johnson acknowledges that some people criticize the methods the center uses to find families. They say profiles of children in newspapers, on television or over the Internet seem too close to marketing a commodity.

"Nobody wants to put a child's picture in the newspaper," she says. "You want these children to have happy, little lives and not make them confront their situations."

The children don't have to participate, and if they choose to do so, they get a chance to be active in finding the family of their dreams.

Living with a foster family in Springfield, Delaware County, Christian feels lucky to help search for a permanent home. He was featured as the May 21 "Monday's Child."

"It's something special. Not many homeless kids can easily find a home. They may not have enough help. I'm not homeless, but I'm lucky enough to get that type of help."

He has modest dreams for a family. He would like siblings and a pet. He would like his parents, especially, to talk to him lovingly, not tell him he's bad or dumb. And he wants to feel he is where he always should have been.

"I want to be treated like one of their own kids."

Contact Carolyn Davis at 215-854-4214 or cdavis@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @carolyntweets.

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