Getting their faces out there: promoting adoption through a photo gallery

Published 12:36 am Thursday, September 2, 2010

SELMA — A child is more than a name on an adoption application or a list of medical records. They have favorite books, television shows and hobbies, and have outgoing or shy personalities, none of which are fully articulated on a stark adoption form.

But by showing their faces and recording sound bites, the Heart Gallery hopes to break through the barrier.

“Our goal is to promote adoption of children that are in foster care that are what is otherwise been considered unadoptable,” said Michelle Bearman-Wolneck, executive director for Heart Gallery Alabama.

The 17 photos of the gallery will be displayed at the Selma-Dallas County Public Library until Sept. 30.

Each photograph has the child’s name and profile beside the frame, and a phone number to call to listen to an audio recording of an interview with some of the older children.

Most children in the images are between the ages of 8 and 14 years, and all live in foster care in Alabama. None of the children displayed in the Selma library are from Dallas County to protect the confidentiality of the child.

One child in the gallery online is from Dallas County.

Galleries have shown in cities such as Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham, but Bearman-Wolneck will focus more on bringing the gallery to small towns.

“In small towns, there’s a good sense of family and belonging,” Bearman-Wolneck said. “Those are the type of communities that have been found that children do better.

She chose the library as the gallery location due to the high foot traffic.

You just never know who may see a picture when they’re walking by when they come to the library,” Bearman-Wolneck said.

Library Director Becky Nichols is excited to host the gallery this month.

“We’re in the kid business, so it was absolutely a good match,” Nichols said. “I think it’s going to be an interesting exhibit and not quite like anything we’ve had before.”

If a child is adopted before the end of the exhibit, Nichols will place a pink heart on the frame of the child saying “found forever family.”

Erina Barnes looked at the pictures as she walked through the library.

“She is a doll,” Barnes said, pointing to one of the pictures before looking at the one beside it. “Someone needs to get her and adopt her, for real. And someone needs to get him.”

Barnes is 18 years old and not interested in adopting a child, but will tell friends about the gallery.

Dallas County has about 80 children in foster care. In 2009, Dallas County foster parents adopted 12 children and three children are in the adoption process for this year.

“Our first priority is to try to work with the birth family, whether they’re parents or relatives like grandparents, aunts or uncles,” said Michelle McNeill, service supervisor for foster care and adoption with the Dallas County Department of Human Resources. “Adoption is only after parental rights have been terminated, when we look for either a foster parent to adopt. But, if that’s not possible, then it’s adoption with an unidentified resource. That’s when the Heart Gallery comes in.”

More than 7,000 children are in foster care in the state. About 90 percent of these children will go back to their biological families. Of the 10 percent available for adoption, about 60 percent will be adopted by their foster parents. Children in the gallery make up the remaining portion.

More than 170 children have been adopted in the state since the Heart Gallery started in Alabama in 2005. The national Heart Gallery started in 2001 and has offices in Alabama, Florida, Oregon, Arkansas, Kansas, California, New York, Louisiana and Oklahoma.

Before the exhibit moves to Shelton State Community College in Tuscaloosa, employees from the Heart Gallery, Department of Human Resources and Alabama Pre- and Post Adoption Connections will be at the library on Sept. 30 at 5 p.m. to answer questions about the children and the adoption process.

The Heart Gallery employees will also bring more images of the children of Alabama. All children are featured at the Heart Gallery’s website,

For more information, call 205-445-1293.