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Obstacles mount for children in need

Life just doesn't get any easier for the Children's Home Society of Florida. It has been taking care of children who desperately need care for 92 years, but the challenges only become more formidable.

The newest challenge is to find parents who will adopt children of various ages who have been or will be "orphaned by AIDS."

"National projections are horrifying," said Art O'Hara, executive director of the society's Gulf Coast Division. At least 80,000 children in this country will be "orphaned by AIDS" before the turn of the century in five years, he said, and that is considered by many to be an overly conservative estimate.

These will be children whose parents die of AIDS but who are not necessarily HIV-positive themselves. They won't all be infants and toddlers and many may have brothers and sisters, factors that make them difficult to place.

Ideally, Art said, the hope is to find adoptive parents while birth parents are still alive. The adoptive parents will become "like members of the family," acting as "standby guardians" who can help with child care as the birth parents become increasingly ill. Then, when it is time for adoption, the children will be able to move in with new parents they already know.

The society is working with the AIDS Coalition Pinellas to locate both adoptive homes and foster homes for children in AIDS situations.

This is the kind of work supported by the Clearwater area's annual Silver Coffee. The 17th annual public fund-raiser will be from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Nov. 11 at the Belleair home of Marilyn and Tom Lokey where the first Silver Coffee was held.

The coffees have raised more than $175,000 for the Children's Home Society. This one is being underwritten by Citizens Bank of Clearwater for the sixth year and Danka Industries for the first year. That means most of the money coming in will go to help children, not to cover expenses.

The suggested donation is $50. Call 585-0311 for reservations.

Some of the money raised will help support the society's Joshua House north of Tampa. This is where abused, neglected and abandoned children from babies to 12-year-olds are brought to be loved and protected. The emergency shelter is licensed for 36 children to live in four homes and is usually near capacity.

Occasionally, teenage mothers are allowed to come and be with their children.

In theory, the children are supposed to stay at Joshua House up to 30 days until they can be returned to their homes or placed in foster homes. But some are staying as long as six months, Art said, because there aren't enough foster homes.

The Children's Home Society still does "traditional adoptions," placing babies with no "special needs" except the need to be loved and nurtured. But there are fewer of these, Art said, because the birth rate is down; more young, single mothers are keeping their babies because there is less stigma attached to their situation and more support services to help them; and there are more private agencies and attorneys handling adoptions.

On the other hand, there are more children with the so-called special-needs label. The society will never stop trying to find homes for them, and proclaims in one of its brochures:

We believe there is no such thing as an unadoptable child.

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