Mississippi Ministers Push Adoptions From Pulpit
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) _ The Rev. Robert West has a special plea for families in his flock this holiday season. He wants them to make room in their hearts, and their homes, for some of the abused and abandoned black children of Mississippi.
″I want my families, some of them, at least, to become adoptive parents,″ West says.
It’s a request the burly Baptist preacher makes from time to time in his role as spokesman for The Ministers For Adoption, a statewide group of black clergy brought together by his wife, Linda.
Mrs. West is adoption coordinator for the Mississippi Children’s Home Society, a non-profit group that helps match Mississippi families with adoptable children from throughout the country.
Since the ministers got involved two years ago, she said, they have helped her find homes for 12 of the 26 children her agency has placed in that time.
″This may not sound like a lot, but these are the kids hardest to place - black, male and school-age,″ she said. ″The ministers have been a tremendous help.″
Mrs. West said she was searching for a more effective way to place such special-needs black children when she decided to seek help from her husband and his peers.
″I believe the black church is a very important resource for the black community,″ she said. ″I decided the black church was a place where we could recruit the kind of families who would be willing to make a commitment.″
Six black ministers initially joined the group. The number has since grown to 11.
″We looked for ministers serving two or more churches in lightly populated counties,″ Mrs. West said. ″Many of these kids have been neglected and abused and some have problems; we felt that rural families wouldn’t have the same high expectations as would urban families.″
West said several children had been adopted by families in his two congregations, among them two childless couples who each took four children so siblings could stay together.
Mrs. West said the 12 children adopted with the ministers’ help came from Mississippi orphanages and foster homes. ″There are dozens of older black children available for adoption in Mississippi and more are becoming eligible all the time,″ she said.
The Wests, themselves adoptive parents of a 10-year-old boy, said they see a steady stream of black children who need permanent homes.
″It’s very sad,″ said Mrs. West.
″It’s relatively easy to find permanent homes for the infants, and especially for the white babies, but the older children are a problem,″ said her husband. ″I’m always on the lookout for families who have a lot of love to give to a child.″
Patty Jones of the state Welfare Department, with whom the Mississippi Children’s Home Society has a contract to find permanent placements for special-needs foster children, said Mrs. West had placed six children for the state in the past year.
Four of these children went to one family. ″They went to a couple at Carthage, Frank and Maggie LeFlore,″ Mrs. West said. ″This was our big success story of the year.″
She said the LeFlores - he’s a construction worker and his wife sews in a clothing factory - originally had wanted to adopt an infant. They changed their minds after meeting the three sisters and their brother, aged 4 to 10.
″They’ve been together for several months now and they’re making it fine,″ Mrs. West said on a visit to the LeFlore home 40 miles northeast of Jackson.
The LeFlores agreed. ″Our family increased from two to six and it was a big adjustment at first,″ Mrs. LeFlore told a visitor. ″But we’re all used to it now.″
She grinned and added, ″When people ask me how it has affected our budget, I just tell them I can’t see much difference; when you’re poor, you’re poor.″
The Wests beamed as they watched the children vie for space on the laps of their new parents.
″The LeFlores are entitled to a $140-a-month subsidy per child from the state, but they wouldn’t take it at first,″ said Mrs. West. ″They didn’t want the children to think they were adopting them for the money.
″You know,″ she added, ″this kind of work can get real depressing at times, especially during the holidays when you think about all the children that need permanent homes. ″But, then, something like happens and makes it all worthwhile.″
″Amen,″ said her husband.
EDITOR’S NOTE - Strat Douthat is the AP Southeast regional correspondent, based in Atlanta.