One east metro adoption agency has absorbed another, widening the exposure for children of color waiting for homes.

HOPE Adoption and Family Services International, a private nonprofit agency in Washington County, has absorbed the African American Adoption Agency (AAAA) in St. Paul, which closed in September. HOPE now is working with AAAA clients, mostly families seeking to adopt children, said Nancy Lyner, HOPE's development director and one of its founders.

"I thinking it's positioning us to place more kids in families," Lyner said Wednesday. "It's very helpful to have more families of color who are already foster parents, and they have a big place in their hearts."

Statewide, about 500 children are awaiting adoption. More than 60 percent are children of color, and many have been waiting for years for families. The AAAA closing means HOPE will pursue a stronger presence in multicultural communities to find adoptive families, Lyner said.

HOPE will retain current files, adoption studies, and licenses of the closing agency, and will inherit 16 families. HOPE also will rent the former AAAA office, and the expanded reach means that HOPE will serve about 100 children by the end of the year, Lyner said. A $50,000 grant from the Otto Bremer Foundation will help pay for the AAAA transition.

HOPE has headquarters in Oak Park Heights but serves all of Minnesota and 19 counties in Wisconsin. As a private nonprofit, one of eight such agencies in Minnesota, HOPE relies on grants and fundraising to operate. It recently added a full-time pregnancy counselor to its staff.

Adoption is a race against time because of the challenges of finding parents who understand grief and loss. Many of the children bring emotional and behavioral challenges and lose hope after years of living with temporary parents. Children who leave foster care but don't find adoptive homes face higher incidences of being jailed, jobless, uneducated and pregnant.

"They've really had a disheveled life," Lyner said.

Lorenzo Davis, a "child-specific recruiter" at the HOPE agency, said most children have been waiting for an adoptive family for two years or more. Most are between ages 6 and 18 and have problems with self-identity and boundaries.

"The loss of birthparents can feel to a child that they're being divorced," said Davis, a social worker whose job title means he searches for families that fit each child's needs. He also works with children to improve their self-esteem and set goals.

HOPE now has six child-specific recruiters working to move children "stuck in the system" of foster care into Minnesota's Waiting Kids, the statewide adoption program, Lyner said.

"People don't know about them and that's probably the biggest thing," she said. "We're aggressively facing the problem and trying to find solutions for the kids."

For details about HOPE Adoption, including profiles of waiting children, see www.hopeadoption