Christopher and Karen Franklin had some reservations about going to a picnic designed to introduce children awaiting adoption to prospective parents.
The Randallstown couple, who want to adopt, said they envisioned a "shopping market" for children.
Nevertheless, the Franklins attended the picnic yesterday at Piney Run Park in Sykesville. It was sponsored by One Church, One Child, a minority adoption recruitment program administered by the state Department of Human Resources.
They were pleasantly surprised.
"Once you get here, you become disarmed," said Mr. Franklin, 37, a juvenile family counselor. "You see these cute faces and start doing a little dreaming.
"You look at them and they look back at you, and the amazing thing is you know they know what it's all about. . . . I'm glad I'm here," he said.
About 100 minority children awaiting adoption and 100 prospective parents were expected to attend the event, the fourth sponsored by One Church, One Child.
The children, ages 1 to 11, are all living with foster families and waiting for adoptive parents, said Mildred Gee, director of One Church, One Child. Many of the children have "special needs" -- including learning disabilities and problems related to abuse or neglect -- which makes placement difficult. Social workers also have trouble placing older children and siblings, Ms. Gee said.
One Church, One Child was founded in Chicago in 1981 by the Rev. George Clements to find adoptive families for black children, Ms. Gee said. One Church, One Child has 34 chapters across the country.
"The name is also its goal," Ms. Gee said. "Each church commits itself to find among its members one family to adopt a child."
The program targets black children because they account for a large percentage of the children waiting to be adopted.
According to Lillian Lansbury, coordinator of the Maryland Adoption Resource Exchange, 194 of the 234 children on the exchange waiting to be adopted are black.
The numbers can be explained partly by the fact that many families at or below the poverty level in the Baltimore and Prince George's areas are minority households, said Helen Szablya, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Human Resources. "If you look at serious poverty pockets and look at where a lot of cases of child abuse and neglect come from, there's a lot of overlap," Ms. Szablya said.
One Church, One Child organizers identified children to attend the picnic yesterday by contacting adoption coordinators in local social service agencies. In most cases, the agencies already had obtained legal guardianship of the children.
Social workers who accompanied the children to the picnic were enthusiastic about its potential.
"Events like this put a face on the children," said Marialis Zmuda, a social worker with the Prince George's Department of Social Services.
"It helps to break down the stereotype that these children are difficult and unmanageable."
Ms. Zmuda brought three children to the picnic, siblings who have been living together in a foster home since 1990.
"It's a very lovely foster home, but they're not able to consider adoption," she said, as Annie, 7, Antonio, 6, and DeAngela, 5, feasted on fried chicken, hamburgers and hot dogs.
"I tell them that my job is to find them a new family to be their forever family."
Prospective parents at the picnic were encouraged to introduce themselves to the child who caught their eye. They may contact the appropriate social service agency to obtain more information about the child.
Ms. Gee said the three previous One Church, One Child picnics have resulted in about 50 adoptions.
Martha Smith, a social worker with the Anne Arundel County Department of Social Services, came to the picnic with Quiana, 8, and her brother, Todd, 6.
Quiana and Todd say they'd like to stay in their foster home in Glen Burnie, but the family is unable to adopt them, Ms. Smith said.
She said the children's ages and the fact that they're biracial make them difficult to place.
"It's difficult for them being in limbo, knowing they don't have a permanent home," she said.