JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Thousands of Northeast Florida kids are looking for their forever homes even as adoption rates continue to slip.
Colleen Rodriguez and her son Nathan flip through the pages of a photo album in her office at Jewish Family and Community Services in Jacksonville. Rodriguez, the product of adoption herself has helped place children with families for most of her career.
In 2010, Rodriguez and her husband adopted Nathan.
"For the birth parents it gives them a way to know that their children are going to be loved and cared for," Rodriguez said.
She says adoption trends in the state are on the decline. Rodriguez explains more restrictions for international adoptions, lowering in teen pregnancy, and more moms feeling comfortable staying single parents contribute to that.
Still, more and more Northeast Florida children go into foster care: Rodriguez explains one reason why.
"I think that we’re seeing a lot of substance abuse and about 70 percent of the children who enter the foster care system we’re working with there are substance abuse issues with the parents," Rodriguez said.
That makes placement critical and adoption a viable option, she adds.
"They get to be parents, I wouldn’t be a mother if I didn’t have Nathan and I really wanted to be," Rodriguez stated.
Nathan, now 6, knows Colleen did not give birth to him, but that does not seem to cross his mind. He puts the relationship simply and lovingly: "I rode in my mom and dad’s car and grew in someone else’s tummy."
As for Nathan’s birth mom, Rodriguez was next to her in the delivery room and said there is still contact: sending photos and letters with updates.
"I was such a loving experience and I’m so glad I got to know them, so now I can tell him," Rodriguez said.
The Jewish Family and Community Services is organization working with families of all religions and backgrounds to adopt.