One by one, Natasha Johnson read the names of hundreds of Houston-area children waiting to be adopted, holding back tears as she went over the list.
One was 14, another 13, then a 7-year-old, all waiting in the Child Protective Services foster care system.
While the overall number of children in foster care is troubling, officials are especially concerned with the disproportionate number of black children in state custody — they make up more than half of Texas’ foster care population.
Johnson, 55, who herself was adopted, was among dozens on hand Sunday at St. Mary’s Missionary Baptist Church to call attention to the more than 1,600 children awaiting adoption in the greater Houston area.
Sister Mama Sonya, a member of the state’s disproportionality advisory committee and an adoptive parent, said she hoped the event would not only encourage adoption, but would inform parents struggling to support their own children.
“Poverty should not be a means just to take kids out of their homes,” Sonya said.
Support programs that offer free college tuition for adopted children, among other aid, have helped bring down the proportion of black foster children in the Houston area from 57 percent to 47 percent over five years, said Mia Williams, a disproportionality specialist for the Child Protective Services.
Officials are also hoping to battle the root causes of children coming into state custody, including creating awareness for counseling, financial assistance and other services available to parents who may otherwise be strained to care for their children, said Scott Dixon, regional director for Child Protective Services in the Houston area.
Children who go through the foster care system and do not find families are not only costly for the state, but may be left with little direction or help. They often end up jobless, homeless or involved in crime or drugs, he said.
“If we can keep children out of foster care or we can get them adopted as soon as possible, it’s going to save the state a lot of money,” Dixon said.
The state helps provide monthly stipends of up to $545 to families that take in children older than 2 from minority backgrounds. Families who take in siblings, children with disabilities or white children older than 6 also qualify for the “special-needs” stipend.
Texas has made progress – about one-third of the more than 60 children adopted at a Houston National Adoption Day celebration on Friday were black, Dixon said.
Still, there were far more names of area foster children than the 443 that attendees read aloud Sunday, and many of them may turn 18 and be turned away from foster homes before they are adopted, he said.
“When they turn 18, many of these children’s bags are put out, even at midnight – you’re 18, you’ve got to go,” Sonya said.
Concerned that some children would reach 18 without families, John Branch, 51, who was adopted, issued a challenge to those on hand.
With Black Friday on the horizon, he said, Houstonians should consider opening their homes, rather than their wallets.
Potential adoptive parents could have an amazing impact on a child’s life, he said.
“I challenge you,” Branch said. “… To adopt a child – someone you can love and cherish for your entire life.”