Heart Gallery of Texas

Heart Galleries of Texas logo

Lily Kepner
Austin American-Statesman

Every day in Texas, 6,000 children are waiting to be adopted. That’s 6,000 children with stories, likes and dislikes, favorite colors and favorite foods, of all ages and backgrounds.

In the last legislative regular session, the state approved $12 million to help create a statewide network to increase adoption. The money went to the University of Texas’ Steve Hicks School of Social Work’s Moritz Center for Societal Impact, and the partnership with the Heart Galleries was born.

Through the Heart Galleries, children waiting to be adopted are professionally photographed, and their stories are told and shared. The money allows a gallery to be opened in each of the 11 Texas regions designated by the Department of Family and Protective Services, with individualized funding to meet each region’s needs.

A Heart Gallery was opened in Central Texas in 2014 by Partnerships for Children, an organization that addresses the needs of children in the care of Child Protective Services and adoption demands.

Since the Central Texas Heart Gallery was opened, more than 400 children featured in the gallery have been adopted — making the adoption rate in the region 22% higher than in the rest of Texas, according to Heart Galleries of Texas. Heart Galleries also works with community resources to support families through the adoption process.

‘More than just photographs’

The proven impact of these galleries led to a combined effort by the Governor’s Commission for Women, Partnerships for Children, the Department of Family and Protective Services, the Texas Center for Child and Family Studies, and the University of Texas to launch the expansion of Heart Galleries of Texas.

On Nov. 14, a new gallery opened in El Paso. First lady Cecilia Abbott, who with the governor adopted her daughter, Audrey, has been a vocal advocate of the Heart Galleries.

“Our lives were forever blessed the day Greg and I became adoptive parents,” Cecilia Abbott said in her address at the opening. “Galleries are more than just photographs. They remind us all that when hearts come together, we can change lives forever.”

Kori Gough, the director of Heart Galleries at UT, said before the Central Texas Heart Gallery was open, the chance of a child being adopted could be as low as 1%.

She said the galleries elevate the stories of kids who are historically harder to adopt due to their age, having siblings, or having a medical condition, and engage the community in adoptive efforts. Gough gave an example of a little girl photographed while smiling with her goggles on at the pool.

“She’s been languishing in foster care for years, and now she’s found multiple families that are interested in getting license, and she’s been since then placed,” Gough said. “You have to put that image out there to engage people to want to talk about the needs in the child welfare system, and it goes beyond adoption.”

In 2024, another round of funding is expected to help pay for post-adoption support for families and increase successful placements, Gough said.

“You look at all the stats that we see day to day, homelessness, incarceration, trafficking, everything, and so much of it stems from not having family,” she said. “(We stress) the need for every child to have some sort of permanent relationship, something in their lives to be successful.”

Heart Galleries also work to make sure children are placed in their home community, and, when appropriate, help engage with birth families, as that’s proved to help child outcomes.

Gough encouraged people to engage with local organizations about adoption and foster care this holiday season to mentor, babysit, donate gifts, or learn more about fostering and adopting.

Moritz Center engages to help kids

Allan Cole, the dean of the school of social work and a former deputy to the president for societal challenges and opportunities, said the center was created to leverage more university resources to address societal problems. This is one of the first major initiatives of the center, which opened in June.

“Everybody is allied in wanting to find more permanent and nurturing homes for children,” he said. “It’s hard to argue against the merits of that.”

The Moritz Center works to use research and engagement with community organizations to have substantial impact on the community.

Jeanette Davidson, the inaugural director of the center, said it will also work to address health, disability, housing, children and families, aging, and ethics. Staff members and students can engage with local organizations to submit proposals for research and impact in these areas. The deadline for submitting to the Projects for Societal Impacts is Jan. 15, and five grants of up to $25,000 will be awarded.

She said the partnership with Heart Galleries is the perfect example of embracing UT’s motto: “What starts here changes the world.”

“We talk about changing lives, but sometimes I think the language should be that we’re saving lives because it’s really a miraculous situation for these children,” Cole said. “People from other states are calling (Gough) and talking about it. And so maybe this can be a model for many, many states.”

Source: Austin American-Statesman