The Thanksgiving holiday is fast-approaching, and for many Arkansans, that means gathering with family. Unfortunately, for hundreds of children in our state, the comforts of a holiday surrounded by family have never been experienced. During the month of November, National Adoption Month, advocates are working to raise awareness of the close to 115,000 children waiting to be adopted nationwide. Here in Arkansas, close to 500 children are available for adoption - some of them having spent most of their young lives waiting for a home and family to call their own.
As heartbreaking as it may be to think of even one child out there aching to be adopted, volunteers and family service workers in our state are making a difference in these children's lives, by continually working to place more young people in safe, loving homes. This month alone, 107 Arkansas adoption cases will be finalized. That's 107 children finding their way into families that will provide the kind of home environment that all children deserve. Being part of a loving family will let them thrive now, helping them to become happy, productive adults down the road.
In fact, in September, the state was given a $1.3 million incentive award from the federal government for increasing the number of children adopted from foster care. Arkansas adoptions increased overall in 2009, exceeding our previous benchmark year of 2007. Arkansas families adopted 622 children last year, up from 466 in 2008. The federal money is used to improve child welfare programs.
It is important that as many of these kids as possible get placed with families as quickly as possible, but it is of course vital to ensure we are putting children in safe home environments. There have always been stringent home studies conducted for adoptions, but in 2009, the Arkansas Legislature enhanced the guidelines for background studies even more. This helps make sure we are putting kids in nurturing, safe homes.
If you and your family have ever considered bringing an adopted child into your home, now, during National Adoption Month, I urge you to further explore the possibility. This is a great time to learn more. It's also a time we should all commend the dedicated workers who help bring children and parents together, as well as the generous families, who by opening their homes and hearts, are able to change the life of a child forever.