TERRE HAUTE —
Tobias’ picture has a story to tell.
It is the story of a 12-year-old boy whose friends affectionately call Toby. Just like many Hoosier kids his age, Toby loves playing games on the computer and on his iPod. But he also likes reading, swimming and riding his bike. Friendly and outgoing, he is helpful and “loves to share things with others.”
And Toby needs to find his forever family.
Toby’s portrait is on display in Hulman Center in downtown Terre Haute this weekend as part of The Indiana Heart Gallery, a traveling photographic exhibit featuring foster care children in need of adoptive families.
The exhibit, put on by Indiana’s Department of Child Services, opened Friday in Terre Haute and continues today.
Created by the DCS in 2007, The Indiana Heart Gallery aims to help find forever families for children in foster care. It travels to about 65 public exhibition venues — hospitals, libraries, museums and churches — across the state each year. More than 1,300 Hoosier foster kids found forever homes in 2013, in part because of the Indiana Heart Gallery, according to a release.
On Saturday, a dozen portraits of smiling, older children were displayed near the Eighth Street entrance of the arena. In one photo, a child named Justin was seen about to shoot a basketball, while in another, Michael put his arm around his brother, Greg.
It is especially hard to find forever homes for these older kids, said Kristi Cundiff, adoption champion with the Children’s Bureau. The bureau helps the DCS and the Heart Gallery find adoptive families for children in foster care.
Most people want to adopt babies, Cundiff said, because they are able to grow up in the family. Older children, however, have to be introduced to the family. They also sometimes come with emotional problems.
“These children are just as important as babies,” she said. “They want to be loved.”
Often, these children feel that “nobody wants them,” but they need stability, a sense of belonging and connection to a family, Cundiff said.
And time is of the essence because these older children will soon age out of the foster system, she said.
This year, as many as 20,000 young people will leave the foster care system without lifelong families — many at age 18, the DCS said.
Cundiff was at the exhibit Saturday to answer questions and share information with people that stop by. In addition to the viewing the portraits, visitors can also take with them a picture of a child with his/her story printed on its back. Information about the adoption process is also available.
The exact number of Indiana foster kids seeking an adoptive home varies day-to-day, DCS said, but the agency is actively recruiting adoptive families for 75 to 100 young people.
According to DCS, nearly 400,000 children are in foster care in the United States. More than 100,000 are legally available for adoption and in need of adoptive families. Many of these children are older, in sibling groups that want to be adopted together or have special needs.
And Cundiff is no stranger to adoption. She has adopted eight children with special needs and they are over 6 years old.
“They bring a lot of happiness and love into a family,” Cundiff said. It may be challenging to raise kids with special needs, she said, but the children also bring a lot of joy and adventure.
While she recognizes that adoption is not for everybody, she encourages people to at least learn about it and about the foster care system.
“Children deserve to be loved,” Cundiff said. “And children have a lot of love to give.”
Tribune-Star Reporter Dianne Frances D. Powell can be reached at 812-231-4299 or firstname.lastname@example.org.