In 1980, an African American Roman Catholic priest, Reverend George Clements, developed a program that was both simple and revolutionary. He asked his fellow clergymen of Illinois to call upon their congregations to find at least one African American family to adopt at least one African American child each year. Father Clements called his program One Church, One Child.
The mission of One Church, One Child is to promote the development of foster and adoptive parents for the abundant number of minority children in the child welfare system. To fulfill this task, One Church, One Child encourages churches to identify caring, loving and safe families who are willing to adopt or serve as foster parents to at least one child. Through this unique recruitment effort initiated by the state's African American religious community and implemented in concert with the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), Illinois has made huge strides in adoption outreach techniques. In the years immediately after the implementation of One Church, One Child, Illinois witnessed an 80 percent decrease in the number of African American children waiting for adoption. Although most states have developed special techniques to encourage African American families to adopt children, Illinois was the first to establish formal ties with a network of minister and churches to facilitate the process.
A disproportionate number of African American and biracial children enter the child welfare system, and traditionally remain in the system longer than white children. In Illinois, One Church, One Child founders cited the lack of outreach efforts coupled with culturally insensitive methods of adoption evaluation, recruitment, and care for children, as problems in the child welfare system. Many African American children languished in the State's ward, becoming too old to be considered an ideal adoption candidate and continuing to live in unstable, parentless environments.
According to Father Clements, the African American church is in a unique position to encourage African American families to adopt African American children. The church plays a central role in many African American communities. Its functions often included providing comfort, engendering trust, increasing unity and inspiring action. Father Clements writes: "The family is the basic unit in our society and the key to a strong community. In no community is this more evident than the African American community. Traditionally, African American communities have absorbed all of the members--always finding ways to incorporate the young within African American family units, never depending on the wider society for economic or social support."
Many states have taken notice of Illinois' success in connecting African American children with African American families. The clergymen affiliated with the program have advised ministers in fourteen states on how to launch similar initiatives. While this program has made an impact on the lives of hundreds of parentless children in Illinois, bringing joy and fulfillment to families across the state, it is clear that One Church, One Child's has realistic transferability potential.