WASHINGTON — There’s no place like home for the holidays. For the thousands of kids in foster care in the D.C. area, having a permanent home is a dream. But there’s a new effort to make that dream come true.
The PicMe project is an on-line portfolio of children who are available for adoption. The project is designed to let prospective parents see beyond a case file and into the heart of a child.
Joan Brady, a professional photographer who’s compiled the portraits for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Government’s Child Welfare program, says she works hard to make the teens feel comfortable during the photo shoot, and gives them copies of the portraits for themselves when the session is over. When she started working with kids in foster care in the past, she says, “They never really had had a picture taken, except for that moment when they get that ‘mugshot’ snapshot for their file.” (Brady’s referring to the snapshots that might be attached to a child’s case file, never seen except when the file comes under review.)
Brady says Jaheim, 12, likes photography, but soon realized he liked being in front of the camera too. (Joan Brady)
The PicMe photos are very different. The kids meet and talk with Brady, then sit for the portraits, sometimes using items she keeps on hand: hats for kids who like to show some personal style such as 16-year-old Anna, or a stuffed animal for 15-year-old Krishana, who Brady says can be quite grown up one moment and child-like the next. Brady says the sessions allow kids to really shine, and show who they are. Twelve-year-old Jaheim likes photography, but Brady says she found that “He liked being in front of the camera as much as he liked being behind the camera!”
Three thousand children are in foster care at any given time in the Washington metropolitan area, says Kamilah Bunn, child welfare manager for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. Bunn is frank about the prospects of adoption for teenagers in foster care: “Given their age, it’s very challenging. Only 15 children who were above the age of 16 were adopted all year in 2013.”
Bunn explains that many teenagers face “aging out” of the foster care system; suddenly, they are thrust into the world at a time when most young adults are getting help and guidance as they try to leave the family nest. They may be struggling to put college money together, attempting to strike out on their own with no real safety net.
“That’s part of what we’re trying to combat with the PicMe project,” Bunn says: The goal is to “provide people with a new picture, that they can picture themselves in with these young people.”
Krishana, 15, can be very grown up one minute and child-like the next, Brady says. (Photo by Joan Brady)
Brady says the kids she photographs have a powerful appreciation for family. Some have a laundry list of things they’re looking for in a permanent home. Many want a pet; others want siblings. But Brady says, “The thing that I have heard the most is, they want a family that does stuff together.”
Bunn says you don’t have to be ready to adopt to help: PicMe needs to get the word out. Simply linking to their site and sharing the profiles with friends and family through social media could make a big difference. Brady says they’ve already had one PicMe success story, and they’re hoping for many, many more.
Foster Parent Associations
For Virginia residents: Faces of Virginia
For Maryland residents: Maryland Foster Parent Association
For D.C. residents: D.C. Metropolitan Foster and Adoptive Parent Association