The young woman carefully tucked her brown hair behind her ear, studying her reflection in the glass of the ticket window at Marlins Park.
She’d never had her photo taken by a professional photographer and she was nervous. Britney has spent the last two years in foster care. It’s hard for older foster children to be adopted. Parents prefer infants, and Britney is 14. But today may help her on a journey to a permanent home.
Britney is one of 36 foster children who came to Marlin’s Park on Wednesday morning. The kids were there to sit for a photo portrait and a short video, which will be posted on a website called the Miami Heart Gallery. Prospective adoptive parents can use the site to (virtually) meet the children in need of a home.
“I don’t want to keep bouncing around,” said Britney, who has spent time in four foster homes. “It feels horrible. I feel like it causes this trauma in me.”
She said she hasn’t seen her birth parents since she went into state care. She’s excited about being adopted.
150 to 200Number of foster kids in Miami-Dade eligible for adoption
“It would mean the world to me,” she said. “I’ve never had a real family.”
The event at Marlins Park in Little Havana was organized by the Children’s Trust, a Miami-Dade taxpayer-funded entity that funds programs for local children and families. (The trust asked that the children be identified only by their first names.)
Barbers and makeup artists volunteered their time to trim hair, powder cheeks and get the kids ready for their turn in front of the cameras.
“Everybody needs a home,” Jack Nemorin, a barber who works in Miami Gardens, said over the soft buzz of electric razors.
Billy the Marlin, the hometown mascot, also stopped by, posing for photos with the children.
In any given month, there are about 150 to 200 foster children eligible for adoption in Miami-Dade, said Emily Cardenas, director of communication for the Children’s Trust. The Heart Gallery launched in 2008.
“People who are looking to adopt children are searching the Web now,” Cardenas said. “It can make a big difference if you see a picture or hear a voice. You start to see the child’s personality come through. Sometimes something the child says triggers something in the parent. Sometimes it’s the look in a child’s eye. That’s how it starts.”
I don’t want to keep bouncing around.
Britney, 14, foster child
The children featured in the Heart Gallery are considered “hard-to-place.” That means they may be older, belong to a racial minority, be part of a sibling group, or have a mental or physical disability. Their relationship with their birth parents has been legally severed.
“More than half of the kids that make it into the Heart Gallery get adopted,” Cardenas said. “That’s higher than the normal rate.”
And it’s important for foster children to find “forever families.” Studies show that children who age out of foster care at 18 have harder lives than those who grow up in permanent homes. Kids who age out are more likely to spend time in jail, become addicted to drugs, suffer from depression and commit suicide.
Families who adopt foster children in Florida usually receive federal tax credits and a monthly financial subsidy. The children are eligible for free tuition at state colleges and universities until they turn 28.
“Kids who age out aren’t exposed to the adult role models that most kids get,” said Ronald Mumford, who works at the nonprofit Wendy’s Wonderful Kids Adoptions.
Mumford said the Heart Gallery has opened up adoption, which used to be done locally, to a national pool of parents. “We’ve had children adopted by families in California, New York, Michigan, Alabama, Pennsylvania,” he said. There were about 280 adoptions from foster care in Miami-Dade in 2014, according to Our Kids of Miami-Dade/Monroe.
Tyriek, a 15-year-old boy with downcast eyes, hopes that a kind family will see his portrait online and take him in. He knows it could take a long time. Most adoptions take about a year to be finalized. In the meantime, he’s excited about trying out for his high school football team. He wants to play wide receiver. He feels at home on the field. That’s how he wants to feel all the time.
Getting adopted, he said, “would make me feel like I have my own place. Like I’m at home.”
Interested in adopting a child?
Parents who feel that adoption may be right for their families can visit the Miami Heart gallery at https://www.miamiheartgallery.org/.
They can also call the foster care and adoption agency Our Kids of Miami-Dade/Monroe at 305-455-6000 or the Children’s Trust 24-hour hotline at 305-631-4211