THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
RADIO ADDRESS OF THE PRESIDENT AND THE FIRST LADY TO THE NATION
The Oval Office
10:06 A.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. Today we're taking important new steps to make adoption easier and to move children out of foster care faster. These efforts will help to give even more children what every child needs and deserves, loving parents, and a strong and stable home.
I'm delighted to be joined in the Oval Office today by a remarkable group of children and parents who know firsthand the tremendous possibilities of adoption; and by the First Lady who has worked so long and hard on this issue and whose efforts have made today possible.
I'm especially pleased to be able to take this action now, in this season of hope and light. The holidays we celebrate this month teach us that through faith and love we can truly repair the world. I can think of no better way to fulfill the promise of this season than to bring a child into a family and a family to a child.
There are more than 450,000 children in the nation's foster care system. They are placed there because of abuse, neglect or a home life that is neither safe, nor secure. While most of these children eventually return to their original homes, nearly 100,000 of them simply don't have that option. Those children wait far too long, typically three years or more, to find permanent homes and families to love them.
Promoting adoption has been at the heart of our administration's efforts to protect our children and strengthen our families. Earlier this year I was proud to sign a $5,000 tax credit to help families adopt children. We put an end to racial preferences for adoption. No longer can laws keep children of one race from nurturing arms of adoptive parents of another. This is a good start, but we must do more.
That is why I have just signed a presidential directive with a clear goal: We will double the number of children we move from foster care to permanent homes, from 27,000 a year today, to 54,000 a year by the year 2002. With this effort we're saying no child should be trapped in the limbo of foster care; no child should be uncertain about what the word "family" or "parents" or "home" mean, particularly when there are open arms waiting to welcome these children into safe and strong households where they can build good, caring lives.
As part of this initiative, I'm directing the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Donna Shalala, who is also with us today, to launch an extensive effort to determine what steps we must take to meet our goal. I want the Secretary to report back to me with her recommendations in 60 days. This report must tell us how we can help states set and meet urgent new adoption targets. It must describe how we can improve coordination among local, state and federal authorities so that every community has access to the best ways to encourage adoption. And it must outline what sensible financial incentives we can provide states to raise adoption rates.
I also want the Secretary to determine what additional changes we can make in federal laws and regulations to ensure that children won't get trapped in foster care. And I want to know if there are any new provisions we can put in place to move children through the system faster and to protect them when they leave.
There are other steps we are taking immediately. I'm instructing the Departments of Treasury, Labor, Commerce, and Health and Human Services to launch an all-out effort to heighten public awareness about adoption and to recognize those in the private sector who are committing themselves to this important cause.
Let me also say how grateful I am to those in Congress of both parties who are working so hard to make adoption a reality for America's most vulnerable children. I want to thank especially Senators Rockefeller and DeWine, and Representatives Kennelly and Camp for their efforts.
The fact that we are commemorating the birth of a child that began life in a manger and became the Prince of Peace should remind us that the promise of God has been placed in every child. We must work tirelessly to make sure that every boy and girl in America who is up for adoption has a family waiting up* to reach him or her. No child should be in foster care for one day longer than he or she needs to be.
This is a season of miracles, and perhaps there is no greater miracle than finding a loving home for a child who needs one.
Thanks for listening.
MRS. CLINTON: We are so happy to have all of you here in the Oval Office with us today. And I know that the families that are here and the children and teenagers who are here all have a story to tell about how your families were created. And I would like to ask if I could -- I know that several of you actually were united with the children who are here because of television shows that you saw the children on. And perhaps you could tell us what happened and how that came to be.
Would you like to start? And maybe you should tell everyone who you are and introduce yourself.
MR. BORIE: My name is Glenn Borie. My wife is Carolyn, and these are our four children -- John, Crystal, Charity and Dawn.
MRS. BORIE: We had been foster parents and were looking to adopt and knew that there were a lot of options. But seeing how children often get lost in the system, our hearts went towards them, knowing that -- very desirable and young and end up in the system for a long time and are less desirable to people at that point when they are available.
So we have been, by chance, by God's will, had the television on on a particular day when there was a talk show about adoption. And for a brief 20 seconds we saw Crystal on TV and just caught in our heart at that time. And as we saw the number for the National Adoption Center we found out she had three siblings.
Within a month the two older ones, John and Crystal, had moved in. We started visits with Charity and Dawn and two months later they moved in as well. Before they were separated in two foster homes for five years, so when the two younger ones moved in the week before Thanksgiving it was the first time in five years that they'd spent that together. And we just had a very thankful time to just thank God for an incredible family.
MRS. CLINTON: We're glad you're here today.
Did you also have a television?
MS. GRAY: Actually, no. I had adopted Michael when he was only eight years old -- I was 44 at the time, a divorced woman, wanted a child, and I was totally lost. This is the most amazing thing that I've ever experienced in my life, is having the gift of this beautiful child here.
And work for a company, Phoenix Insurance Company, which is an incredibly supportive company. And we have a subsidy for people up to $2,000 for adoption of children. And the company has been supportive in a lot of ways. Me, as a single parent -- so it's just -- I'm delighted that you're doing this. Because as I go around and I tell people I adopted a child and I was 44 and he came from the state, I get all of these surprised looks -- how could you get him as a single parent, you know, are there children in the system. I think we have a huge job ahead of us in terms of educating people about getting children out of the public system. Kids are there and they need us.
MRS. CLINTON: I absolutely agree.
MS. GRAY: And they need companies like mine to support us.
MRS. CLINTON: And what about your family story.
MR. INGLESE: Hi, my name is Larry Inglese, and we were a foster family to start off with. I always loved children and wanted to have a lot of children. I saw this commercial on TV to open up your heart and your home to a special needs child. So I responded to that commercial and, of course, being a foster parent who liked having children in Pennsylvania, St. Joseph's called about adopting. And I went through with adoption of -- they set us up in a match party. And I met Jason there, who was 13 at the time.
THE PRESIDENT: How old are you now, Jason?
JASON INGLESE: I'm 15.
MR. INGLESE: He's going to be 16 next month. And him and I, we just, like, made eye contact. We sat down, we had lunch, we looked at each other in the eye and we both knew at that minute I was his father and he was my son. There was no doubt, no doubt whatsoever. But they had another family that had wanted Jason with two parent -- I'm a single parent, and they had a two-parent home. But that lady there kept changing her mind back and forth, so I said -- the two of us came to -- you know, this isn't for sure with her, I think I should get first choice over Jason because I'm willing to make a commitment now. And she agreed.
He was sure and I was sure, and through adoption got him. And then sometime later I was ready for the next one, and the caseworker was calling around, trying to find a home for Michael. Michael has got cerebral palsy and he's got mild mental retardation. He has a lot of problems with -- he came out, it was hard to find him a home. Anyway, finally, I accepted, I said I would take him.
But there were some race issues at the time, but they wouldn't let me have him right away. It took about -- it was about five or six months. They contacted me back and they couldn't get another family to take him so they accepted us. But I was kind of upset at the time because we were ready to give him a loving home and it didn't happen -- because of one caseworker, it didn't happen as fast as it should have. But we finally got him.
MRS. CLINTON: Great.
MR. INGLESE: And we finalized with him in November, November 15th of this year.
MRS. CLINTON: Well, that's wonderful -- in time for Thanksgiving. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: You have -- how many kids do you have now?
MR. INGLESE: I have three biological children, two adopted, and I've had 23 foster children.
MRS. CLINTON: That's great.
And what about your story?
MRS. BRYANT: My name is Frances Bryant. This is my husband, Michael Bryant. And we also saw Trey on the television program. We were watching the news one night, and normally I don't actually watch this particular channel, and for some reason I was just glued to this news. And I had never seen a commercial with children on it asking for a home. And then I saw Trey and he was on there and just touched my heart so much. And I wrote down the number and it was 1-800-KIDS hotline -- and I got up right after it went off and I told my husband about it. I said, you wouldn't believe what I just saw on TV. You know, I had never seen a child asking for a home.
There was no way that I could refuse this. I mean, it just touched my heart so. And we called the very next day and found out the information, and we went through the process and it only took about two months and we got Trey in our home. And what the amazing thing is that I realized how many children are out there waiting to be adopted. And I encourage anyone who can open up their heart and their home to a child -- it's a wonderful, rewarding experience. And I'm also going to do it again.
MRS. CLINTON: Well, we have some children here who are waiting for homes, and maybe you could introduce yourself. Which ones -- who wants to go first? Anybody want to say anything?
THE PRESIDENT: Go ahead.
DANIEL: My name is Daniel, and I've been waiting for a family for quite a long time. And hopefully, in a short amount of time I will probably get what I'm looking for in a family. My brother has already been adopted, and hopefully I'll get adopted by his family at one point of time. And if not, I'll still be able to get in contact with him.
THE PRESIDENT: How old are you?
THE PRESIDENT: How old is your brother?
MRS. CLINTON: How long have you been in foster care?
DANIEL: About two, three years.
MRS. CLINTON: Two or three years?
DANIEL: I'm not sure, but --
THE PRESIDENT: Where's your home? Where do you live?
DANIEL: Where do I live now? Alexandria.
THE PRESIDENT: Anybody else want to talk?
MRS. CLINTON: What's your name? I'm glad you're here this morning.
One of the goals that we have with trying to do this and, as you say, talk more about education of people about adoption, and something the Secretary and the President and all of us are committed to, is so that more people know what your experience has been like. And anytime you raise a child, it is not all easy. We know that. I mean, there are going to be ups and downs no matter what. But I think that your stories about the emotional feeling that you had when you met your children is something that if we can get more people to see, we'll have more response. Do you agree with that, too?
MS. GRAY: Absolutely. I saw Michael the first time, he was four weeks old, and, as you say, I knew that this is my little boy. I was all pumped up thinking, oh, I'm going to adopt a little girl because I know about girls -- then I saw this little boy and it was all over.
But it has been an enormous blessing for me and for my family. He's just an incredible, an incredible gift. And I just wish that more and more people could have that experience. There is such a mythology about adoption, and if we could just get the word out and just get people to go and see and talk to these beautiful children, we could find them all homes, and have stable, loving parents who care about them and will raise them as strong citizens. And it's the greatest thing I've ever done in my whole entire life.
MRS. CLINTON: That's what we're going to try to do. And you all are experts because you've been through the system. What are some of the changes that we need to make in the system that each of you has dealt with so that we can perhaps encourage more people to be involved? Any thoughts about that?
MS. BORIE: Just the length of time that it takes. In my situation, I'm thankful that it took longer only because I would not have had them otherwise. But it breaks my heart to know that -- these are my children and to know that they were separated from each other for that long. It's heart-wrenching. And I may not have been their parent at that time, but having them now, in my heart I was their parent all that time. And to think that they had to go without each other, as a parent, it's just very sad. And it shouldn't have taken that long.
MRS. CLINTON: How long did it take?
MRS. BORIE: They were in care for about five years. Our experience -- happened more quickly than usual. It was very speedy, thankfully. But to know that they were apart for that long was unnecessary.
MS. GRAY: I'd like to see us do a lot more with companies. I'm sure that -- I'm speaking on behalf my company because it's very supportive getting started, Phoenix Insurance. And anybody who wants to talk to me about it, please call because I want to help other companies do the same thing. If we could just get companies to tell their employees about these kinds of opportunities -- to do more through their newsletters and to say we're offering a benefit -- that would be great.
MRS. CLINTON: And the new legislation that the President signed to give people the $5,000 tax credit -- that's something we need to make sure people know about, too, because you obviously don't do these things because of that, but there are expenses associated with taking a child into your home, especially a child with medical problems. Have you found that?
MR. INGLESE: Well, I'm lucky as far as my problems because Michael's medication alone comes to about $800 a month and I could never afford that on my own. But I have a Pennsylvania Medical Access Card which covers his medical, and he needs many operations that he's been in even before I got him and he still -- he just got an operation, I think it was last month. They cover everything, totally. All his needs are met and paid for by the state. And I think it would be, like, impossible for me to adopt him if the state didn't pay for his needs and medical care because it's a tremendous amount and it's a tremendous expense.
Also what I want to say to others who are thinking about adopting, I think it's -- from what I find with some of the children, that they gave the parents too many years, they keep the children in foster care too many years. Jason was first in foster care from an infant. And he didn't get put up for adoption until he was 13 years old. It went so many years back and forth that he went back to the birth family and then taken away and back and forth. And Michael was also five years. His mother abandoned him at birth. He was put in foster care right from the hospital when he was born. And he's been in through foster homes in the five years before I adopted him.
I think it should be a lesser amount of time a child -- don't give the parents that long to try to get their children back. I think a year should be good enough. If a parent don't clean up their act within the year, then that child should be put in a loving home where he will get all the love that his natural parents can't give him.
MRS. CLINTON: How do you feel about that, Jason? Do you have an opinion about that?
JASON: Yes. Basically, I agree on the same. It shouldn't take that much time because with a child, of course, he's going to think that it should because he's going to want to go back with his biological parents, but to sit here and think about it, I would have liked it that way than to keep going back, keep taken away, keep going back -- for it to keep happening like that.
MR. INGLESE: Each time a new foster home. The other foster homes, they fill up. So he was like in, I think, about 12 or 13 foster homes and it was new one each time. He couldn't even go back to the same foster home where he knew the people. So he had to go through that struggle of trying to fit in with new family all over again and over and over and over again.
THE PRESIDENT: How many foster homes have you lived with?
DANIEL: About three.
THE PRESIDENT: Do you feel it's hard when you change?
DANIEL: It's a bit. After a while, you get sort of used to it, but it's still hard.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all very much. Thank you.
MRS. CLINTON: Thank you for what you're doing and thank you for the example.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
END 10:26 A.M. EST