Moritz Center Launches Program to Increase Foster Care Adoptions in El Paso

AUSTIN, Texas — The Heart Gallery of El Paso, created by the Moritz Center for Societal Impact at The University of Texas at Austin, has formally launched and is the first of 11 statewide programs planned to improve the foster care system in the state and increase adoptions. There are approximately 350 children in foster care and 100 children available for adoption in the El Paso area, according to the Paso del Norte Community Foundation.

The program raises awareness and promotes adoptive parent recruitment through professional portrait photography and community displays. It is particularly useful for difficult adoption cases due to factors such as older age, sibling group or medical issues.

“It is hard to think of a more meaningful, positive way to have an impact than helping a child who wants to be adopted find a family who will provide a true sense of belonging and permanence,” said President Jay Hartzell. “What the Moritz Center has accomplished within its first year of existence, in collaboration with the Texas Center for Child and Family Studies, is truly remarkable, and its impact on child adoption will grow as we replicate the Heart Galleries of Texas across the state. We are grateful for the support of the governor and Mrs. Abbott and are thrilled with this partnership between the State of Texas, Moritz Center for Societal Impact and Heart Galleries of Texas.”

The Central Texas region, which the El Paso program is modeled after, has showed significant increases in overall adoption rates as compared with the rest of the state year after year.

“Before this program, the only resource social workers had to advocate for the children in their caseload was a grainy photo taken on their cellphone. Their chance of ever being adopted was often less than 1%,” said Kori Gough, director of Heart Galleries of Texas. “The research has now shown that when a robust Heart Gallery program is in place, the chance of adoption has surpassed 60%.”

The Heart Galleries of Texas, which joined Moritz Center through a partnership with the Governor’s Commission for Women and the Texas Center for Child and Family Studies, is the first major project being led by the Moritz Center. During the 88th legislative session, Texas lawmakers provided $12 million in funding to the Moritz Center to expand the program’s impact.

“We are excited to work in partnership with Heart Galleries of Texas and the Texas Center for Child and Family Studies to support Texas children and families desiring adoption,” said Allan Cole, dean of the Steve Hicks School of Social Work and founding director of the Moritz Center. “Expanding the reach and impact of the Heart Galleries’ work aligns with the Steve Hicks School’s strengths in research and evaluation and with mission of the Moritz Center to solve critical social problems and enhance peoples’ lives. I expect this partnership to help change many lives for the better.”

Additional Heart Galleries will be launched across Texas in the coming weeks, including locations in Midland, Corpus Christi, the Houston area, and more. In addition to the Moritz Center, the Steve Hicks School of Social Work is partnering with the Texas Center for Child and Family Studies to provide funding and support for the effort.

“The Heart Galleries of Texas is more than just photographs,” said Texas first lady Cecilia Abbott, who also spoke at the launch event in El Paso. “It is a testament to the potential that lies within each child, reminding us all that when hearts come together, we can change lives forever. I am proud to support the Heart Galleries of Texas and hope that this critical investment will offer greater dignity and stability for children in the foster care system who are available for adoption.”

Located in the Steve Hicks School of Social Work, the Moritz Center for Societal Impact aligns interdisciplinary efforts in research and scholarship, curriculum and instruction, and community partnerships to solve critical social problems and improve people’s lives. Its focus areas include ethics, aging, disability, children and families, and health and technology.

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