Children & Families Column

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In family courts in Kansas City, Kan., Monday afternoon used to be known as "hate day."

"We would have up to 300 cases, with moms and dads and kids and significant others and friends all in the hallway just madder than hell at each other," said Karen Shelor, a Kansas City divorce lawyer.

Now, hate day is on Friday afternoons, with just a handful of angry faces, she said.

The change points to the success of the city's required parent-education classes for divorcing parents--an idea that has taken off over the past decade in cities throughout the United States.

Parents in Kansas City who file for divorce have four weeks to sign up for a two-hour program, which teaches mothers and fathers how to ease the hardship divorce can place on children.

The courses seek "to help parents understand that they are not going to see eye to eye on everything, but that it's important to work together," said Peter Salem, the associate director of the Association for Family and Conciliation Courts in Madison, Wis.

Kansas City began requiring divorcing parents to take classes in 1986. Since then, an increasing number of local courts have established programs of their own, or contracted them out to social-service agencies.

Mr. Salem said there are more than 500 such classes in 41 states. Connecticut and Utah require them statewide.

Although a few parents shun the mandate, most are interested in the information, added Ms. Shelor. "We're able to lessen the hostility," she said.

State adoption agencies that accept federal funds will no longer be able to delay a child's placement while they search for a family of the same race or ethnicity.

The U.S. Health and Human Services Department told states last month that they have until Oct. 21 to align their adoption policies with the Multiethnic Placement Act, which President Clinton signed into law last October.

Of the 20,000 children awaiting adoption at the end of 1990, nearly half had been waiting for at least two years, department statistics show.

According to the department, it takes substantially longer for minority children to find homes.

But guidelines H.H.S. sent to states to speed the placement of such children straddle the fence between those who advocate colorblind placement and opponents of interracial adoptions. Though states cannot delay placement because of race or ethnicity, they may consider a child's cultural, racial, or ethnic background when making placement decisions.

--Laura Miller

Vol. 14, Issue 35

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