For more than three decades the Three Rivers Adoption Council has been the go-to organization in Pennsylvania for adoption information, support, education and referral services.
“We help everyone adopt kids,” said Three Rivers Adoption Council CEO Jacqueline D. Wilson. “Our goal is to find permanent placement, foster care or adoption for the kids.”
The organization was created in 1979 by adoptive parents and professionals. Today it is an arm of the United Way and is a multi-service agency that caters to children who cannot stay with their birth families. It helps place those children in permanent homes.
The children fall into various categories. More than half are African-American, many are older or part of a sibling group that needs to remain together, while others have emotional, mental or physical disabilities.
The average age for a child in the Three Rivers Adoption Council system is eight years old, although it does place 14- and 15-year-olds in permanent homes.
According to Wilson, there are 3,500 kids in Pennsylvania with the goal of adoption. The rest either want to return home or be placed with relatives.
The Three Rivers Adoption Council works with public and private groups to meet the kids’ needs.
The Adoption Council uses various programs to reach that goal. Those programs include: Adoption Services, Black Adoption Services and Connections.
“In PA the majority of kids in the system are African-American and we wanted to help with that,” Wilson said. “We do a lot of work with the churches to educate their congregations. Research tells us that one underlying reason is poverty. Everything else like unemployment, drug abuse stems from there. When you have poverty, it directly impacts the kids. The kids are traumatized and that impacts their behavior because they are worried about where they will sleep that night. They are not so worried about school or education.”
According to Wilson, the Keystone State averages 1,000 children that turn 18 and age out of the foster care system annually. Fifty-six percent of those children are African-American. Ironically, Blacks only make up 13 percent of the population in the commonwealth.
She said the result is that the majority of those kids become a part of the homeless population. The kids are most likely to be undereducated and in poverty and they become a part of the mental health system.
“There are a lot of obstacles for these kids if we don’t find them a home,” Wilson said. “We want a positive outcome for kids. We want them to become productive, functioning members of society.”
Another way of doing that is through educating the public each year throughout the month of November, which is National Adoption Month.
National Adoption Month was proclaimed by President Bill Clinton in 1995. Nationwide, programs are held to raise awareness and celebrate adoption.
The Three Rivers Adoption Council is no exception.
“We try to make sure we do a lot of educating in the month of November. What we know is that adoption is not an emotional decision, it’s a real, thought-out decision,” Wilson said. “Our goal is to flood people with information because there is an extreme need. These kids are all of our responsibility because they deserve a bright future. A willing family is needed. If you are willing that is the first step.”
For more information on the Three Rivers Adoption Council, visit www.3riversadopt.org or call 412-471-8722.