Only in America

Friday, February 24th, 2006

You couldn't do this over here. Someone – probably those great defenders of children, the tabloid press – would call it a shopping catalogue for paedophiles. But over in Tampa, Florida, there's a project called the Heart Gallery that's making a real difference for kids with no families who are hoping for adoption.

Briefly, amateur and professional photographers in Hillsborough County, Tampa, take portraits of children in local foster care, display the pictures and the kids' stories in a gallery (sometimes with audio messages from the children), and invite the public along to have the hearts ripped out of their chests and get the kids adopted. It works, a lot. Something like 40 per cent of the children end up with families as a result.

People make strange decisions when it comes to adoption. I know – I'm adopted myself and I'm told the first couple who looked at me back in '68 rejected me because I was too old (five months!) and too Spanish-looking. So my first thought was that this was a bit dodgy – a sort of Darwinian selection process where the pretty get selected and the ugly and ill-favoured disappear back into the mud.

But it's not – the photos are wonderful, and they're of all sorts of children with all sorts of appearances. You'd want to give not just any of them a home, but all of them.

Apparently there are about 70 of these galleries across the US, but this one is the first to include audio messages from the kids. I can only imagine what it's like to listen to them. They must be the foster care equivalent of the 9/11 answerphone messages: for a lot of these kids, not finding an adoptive family is a kind of death – the death of opportunity, the final chance gone to lead what most of us would term a normal life with loved ones and ambitions and a realistic chance of achievement.

I heard about this over at Heck's Kitchen, where JM linked to it because her sisters are among the photographers (in fact, one is an organiser). She also linked to a great article from the local press (links at the bottom of this post, and a hat-tip to Jenny for the text that my second paragraph is ripped off from).

As I get older, I find I feel more and more strongly about adoption. Not my own adoption – I'm very relaxed about that – but about the subject itself. What that means in practice is not something I fully understand – I don't know where that particular thought process is taking me. I don't even really know how to finish this paragraph about it, so I'll just let it trail off here unsatisfyingly while I let the thoughts brew a while longer.

But I do know that I think the Heart Gallery of Tampa Bay is a bloody wonderful thing and I wish it was possible to do the same everywhere.

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I'm Andy Darley. Sometimes I want to say things. This is where I do it.