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National Adoption Day Celebration

Washington, DC - November 20, 2009

Thank you, Rita, for that introduction. And thank you for all the great work that National Adoption Day does to inspire Americans to find loving homes for our children.

I also want to acknowledge four members of Congress who are here today: Senator Mary Landrieu, Representative Jim McDermott, Representative Dennis Cardoza, and Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton. As long as we have passionate leaders like these four in Washington, America’s children will always have a voice in Congress.

I’m so glad we could have two other dedicated advocates for children with us today. Kathleen Strottman is the executive director of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, a group that has done an incredible job getting Senator Landrieu and Congressman McDermott’s colleagues to pay attention to this issue. And Joan Lombardi is here too. Joan is one of our department’s biggest leaders on early childhood development and child welfare issues. No one is more committed to giving kids the best possible start to life.

We also have the Executive Director of our White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships Joshua DuBois with us today. Joshua is one of the main messengers for President Obama’s belief that the change our country needs doesn’t come from the top down.

It can start with a community group or a church or a temple or a mosque. Or, as we’re seeing today, it can start with a few families opening their homes and hearts to children who have so much to give in return.

And I especially want to thank these very special families for being here this morning. Karen Davis is here with her beautiful daughter Dominique. Dominique has lived with Ms. Davis since she was 11 years old and I hear they are quite the pair. They even have the same favorite colors: purple and pink.

And we also have Paula Lancaster here with her daughter Emmari, her mother Carolyn, and Emma. Emma is two-years old and loves Elmo. (Who doesn’t?) After today, she is going to have a doting grandmother, a protective older sister and a loving mother.

Thank you for inviting us to share this incredible moment with you. And thank you for being role models for the rest of the country.

The job of my department is to provide essential health and human services for the Americans who need them the most. So we provide health care for tens of millions of children. We support early care and education programs that provide a safe place while parents work and a supportive place to learn and grow.

But none of the services we provide can be a substitute for the love and care and support that come from a family. The most important people in any child’s life should be their parents or parent. That singular love and commitment is something every child should have.

And I’m so happy for Dominique and Emma and all the other children around the country who are joining their new families today, tomorrow, and throughout the year. But celebrating with Dominique and Emma is only part of our job today.

We’re also here to draw attention to the hundreds of thousands of children around the country who don’t have permanent homes.

Today there are more than half a million kids today who are in foster care. That’s more than the population of Miami.

We know that more than a quarter of these children are legally separated from their families and are waiting to be adopted. That’s more than the population of Hartford, Connecticut.

And we know that even though more than 50 thousand children were adopted from foster care last year, another 25 thousand turned 18 and left the foster care system with no permanent families.

We also know that part of the problem is simply coordination. There are children looking for parents. And parents looking for children. But they can’t find each other.

That’s why my department has an Adoption Incentive program that encourages states to find safe, loving and permanent families for children in foster care – and then rewards them for pursuing that goal.

It’s why we have special bonuses for states that can find adoptive parents for older children and kids with special needs.

It’s why we have National Child Welfare Resource Centers across the country. These are places states can go with questions about how to do a better job with adoptions: how to apply for grants, how to use technology effectively, how to recruit potential adoptive parents.

The evidence is clear. Children who don’t have stable, permanent homes are more likely to drop out of school, more likely to be unemployed, more likely to go to jail, and more likely to become teen parents. That is their loss. But it is also our loss.

We owe it to these kids to do everything we can to help them find homes that they can call their own.

Last year, we took a big step in that direction when Congress passed a historic piece of legislation: the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act. This was a bipartisan bill, signed by President Bush, and it significantly expanded financial incentives for parents to adopt, especially children with special needs.

And by the way, that was Representative McDermott’s bill and he deserves a lot of credit for getting it written and getting it signed into law.

But we also understand that this is not just a matter of connecting willing parents to willing children. There are a lot of adults in America who want to adopt but don’t think they’re ready. Or, if they’re single, they don’t think they can do it alone. Or they’re not sure whether they want to adopt a child who’s older or has special needs.

If they could be here today to see the joy and richness that Emma and Dominique are bringing to the lives of their families, they might reconsider. But the bigger point is: we don’t need superhuman parents or flawless parents or parents with a lot of experience. We just need loving parents.

That’s why we’re funding a national ad campaign with a simple message: children don’t need perfection, they need you.

That’s also why we need all of you advocates in the audience to keep working hard to educate Americans about how incredible adoption can be – not just for children, but for parents and siblings and communities.

But I give you permission to put off that hard work for at least the next half hour because we’ve got some new families to celebrate!

So, without further delay, I want to introduce DC Superior Court Chief Judge Lee F. Satterfield who is going to introduce the next part of our program. Judge Satterfield, can you please join me on stage?