HHS plans adoption Web site

The Department of Health and Human Services expects to launch within two years a World Wide Web site devoted to recruiting parents for children awaiting adoption through public agencies across the nation.

HHS' children's bureau plans to debut the site in 2001. It will feature pictures and descriptions of at least 8,000 children needing permanent homes, HHS spokesman Michael Kharfen said.

The procedure is still being developed, Kharfen said, but prospective parents will be able to log onto the Web site to peruse photographs, pick out a child and find out which state agency represents that child. At that point, the prospective parents can contact the agency to begin the adoption process.

Kharfen said HHS expects the number of youngsters in need of adoption will be rising over the next two years, in the wake of the Adoption and Safe Formula Act, which was passed in 1997 and strengthens laws by requiring states to move children who cannot return to their birth families to permanent homes in a timely manner.

"There will be more kids needing adoptive homes,'' Kharfen said. "The Internet will help get information out there.''

The idea for a nationwide adoption Web site was prompted last year by President Clinton's request for HHS to prepare a plan for using the Internet to coordinate national adoptions among states and agencies, Kharfen said.

Although various states and private agencies have Web sites devoted to adoption, Kharfen said no national one exists.

The site will cost $1.5 million to set up and $1.25 million per year to operate, according to HHS. The funds will come from adoption-related programs already in the budget, plus private-sector contributions.

States will not be required to participate in the project, but their interest level could be high: A recent national survey suggests that many states already regard the Internet as a good recruitment tool.

Donna Younkin, administrator for Foster Care and Permanency in New Jersey, said the national site will complement a similar site the state already operates.

"I think anything we can do to get the message out about adoption should be used," Younkin said. "We should use multiple recruiting to place children. The Internet is a broader recruiting effort, not the sole recruitment [tool]."

Younkin said on average there are at least 100 children in New Jersey seeking adoption at any given time.

Kharfen said HHS is refining the project's details, such as finding ways to protect children's privacy.

"Part of the plan is to work with states in terms of what is the right amount of information we use [on the Web site]," Kharfen said.

The New Jersey site, for example, protects children's privacy by posting only their first names. The state has not had any privacy problems since its Web site debuted more than a year ago, Younkin said.

"We protect our children like we do in a newspaper column or television show," she said. "We haven't had any problems."

HHS' children's bureau will work with states and private agencies to reduce state-to-state adoption barriers, Kharfen said. The goal is to make it less taxing for couples from one state to adopt a child from another, even if the states' laws differ.

A contracting agency will develop and maintain the site.

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