OTTAWA, April 12, 2012 /CNW/ - Two years after the Adoption Council of Canada and the Children's Aid Society of Ottawa joined forces to create Canada's first Heart Gallery, the organizations are celebrating the success of this travelling photographic exhibit as a way to help find adoptive families for children in foster care.
The Ottawa Heart Gallery, which launched on Parliament Hill on April 15, 2010, consists of portraits of local children and youth in care of the Children's Aid Society. Thanks to the talent of photographer Christine Tripp, who donated her time to the project, the Heart Gallery captures the essential personality, dignity and uniqueness of each of the children and youth it features. All of the children and youth participating in the Gallery need and want permanent families and are an integral part of the process.
Of the original 14 children and youth represented when the Heart Gallery launched on Parliament Hill, 13 have been adopted or placed or matched with potential adoptive families or legal guardians. Since the launch, another 18 children and youth have been photographed for the Heart Gallery. Many of those children and youths' portraits toured in churches and in public venues such as Service Canada and Rogers Call Centre. Of those 18, 14 have been matched or placed with adoptive families.
The Heart Gallery was one of several recruitment tools that the Children's Aid Society of Ottawa used concurrently to help find families for the participants. It played a significant role in ensuring that these children and youth found permanent families.
"This partnership is an example of how effective working in collaboration can be, especially when the community comes together with all its tremendous skills and talents," says Barbara Mackinnon, executive director at the Children's Aid Society of Ottawa. The Ottawa CAS is one of the leaders in Ontario in finding homes for older children, teenagers, and sibling groups.
For one new parent, seeing his son's Heart Gallery photo "sealed the deal," he says. Prior to the creation of the Heart Gallery, potential adoptive parents received written profiles describing a child or youth. They might also see a head and shoulders photo, like a school shot. Seeing a professional portrait "draws out that inner child," said the parent. "You could see the spark of happiness."
Participating in the Heart Gallery process also created unexpected benefits for the children and youth involved in it.
"The process engaged and helped prepare the kids for adoption, and the portraits were vital in attracting the adoptive parents," says Anik Whyte, an adoption worker for the Ottawa CAS.
In addition to helping to find homes for specific children and youth, the Heart Gallery is designed to raise awareness about the need for permanency that all children and youth in foster care have.
"We have as many as 30,000 children and teens in foster care across Canada who are eligible for adoption but don't have the love, commitment and security that a permanent family can give them forever," says Laura Eggertson, president of the Adoption Council of Canada. "The Heart Gallery is one way we can make this situation real for local communities, by featuring their children who need permanent homes."
Many of those who saw the Heart Gallery portraits had never thought previously about the teenagers in foster care who need permanent families and can be adopted, they said.
The Heart Gallery inspired one Service Canada employee to begin the adoption process after a portrait of one youth spoke to her after she walked by it in her building every day for the two weeks that Service Canada hosted the Gallery there.
Staff members at a Roger's call centre where the Gallery toured not only inquired about adoption, but also about fostering and volunteering with the Children's Aid Society.
"The Heart Gallery is a form of community education about adoption for all ages and abilities, shattering the myth that adoption is only for infants and young children" says Deanne Walters, CAS adoption supervisor.
The process of participating in the Heart Gallery is an empowering one for the featured children and youth, who write their own profiles, choose pseudonyms and select poses.
Each participant receives a copy of the portrait that is displayed in the Gallery.
"The photography is so compelling that it follows the child into their adoptive home," says Debbie Hoffman, adoption manager at the Children's Aid Society of Ottawa. "It's not shelved as a tool, but instead, has a place of value, signifying the start of a new life, filled with hope and possibilities."
The Heart Gallery of Ottawa is made possible by Jockey Being Family™.
For further information:
Adoption Council of Canada
Adoption Council of Canada
Children's Aid Society of Ottawa
613-747-7800 ext. 2033