Bay Area cost of living makes adoption tough

Jennifer Napier didn’t plan to raise three kids on her own.

The 31-year-old administrative assistant for a Redwood City firm admits that circumstance played a heavy hand in forming her family. The work is hard, she says, but it brings previously unimaginable rewards.

Napier, who has an 11-year-old daughter of her own, recently adopted her sister’s 3-year-old son, who was born addicted to methamphetamine. She has had custody of the boy since he was 7 months old. She is also the legal guardian of the boy’s 7-year-old sister.

The three children have become inseparable.

“They’re good kids for what they’ve gone through, full of love,” Napier said.

With a permanent adoptive home, Napier’s nephew is fortunate. As the cost of living has risen on the Peninsula, fewer families have elected to adopt, said Pravin Patel, who manages the adoption program for the San Mateo County Human Services Agency.

“It’s really difficult to remain in the Bay Area, and the number of adoptive homes we had a few years ago has gone down,” Patel said. “Some people have retired and some have moved out of the county and it’s difficult for the new generation because of the cost of living here.”

In the pricey Bay Area, a family of four with two working parents must make $79,946 a year simply to cover its basic needs, according to 2005 statistics from the California Budget Project.

There are 416 children in foster care in the county and 30 percent of them are available for adoption, Patel said. From January 2003 to September of this year, 178 kids were adopted. Older children and those with special needs are particularly hard to place in a permanent home, he said.

To fill the need, human services officials have increased their outreach, advertising in local papers and on radio and television. On Tuesday, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors will pass a resolution acknowledging November as National Adoption Month.

For Napier, taking in the children was difficult at first. To suddenly have a new baby — one with sleep apnea, acid reflux problems and asthma — was stressful. But as the family adjusted and the health problems subsided, Napier became sure of her decision.

“It’s worth it to see them happy,” she said.

Those interested in becoming an adoptive parent can go to www.smchsa.org.

tbarak@examiner.com

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