SALT LAKE CITY — They say a picture's worth a thousand words.
To some Utah children, a picture could be the difference between life with a loving family or the potential of a childhood spent in foster care.
A portrait exhibit that opened Wednesday at the Utah state Capitol offers a glimpse into the lives of 51 children in foster care who are seeking adoptive families.
The Utah Heart Gallery also attempts to dispel misconceptions about children in state custody and to open people's eyes and hearts to the possibility of fostering and adopting these children.
The event, now in its sixth year, has proven to be highly successful. At least half of the children featured have been adopted, said Brent Platt, director of the Utah Division of Child and Family Services. This past year, 68 percent of the children who participated have permanent homes.
"It can be the difference between getting a family and not getting a family," said Kathy Searle, director of programs for the Utah Adoption Exchange. The gallery, which will travel throughout the state, is posted on the Utah Adoption Exchange website www.utdcfsadopt.org.
The portraits have proven to be an effective means of stirring interest in adoption. "Probably the biggest difference it makes is we're recruiting with an exceptional photograph instead of something that could be compared to a driver license photo," Searle said.
Adilfa Ford of Don Polo Photography said she got involved with Heart Gallery by responding to an e-mail seeking professional photographers to take portraits of children in foster care seeking adoption. She has participated every year since. She also helped recruit other professional photographers to take part. Thirty-five donated their talents to this year's gallery.
One year, Ford photographed two brothers who were adopted into the same family. She later had the opportunity to take a portrait of them with their new family. "They had totally changed. It was like day and night. It makes me feel good. Maybe I had a little to do with that," Ford said.
As much as the event can help children find adoptive homes, it also has a lasting impact on the photographers who take part.
"Some days you do a portrait session and there's no consequence. Sometimes they mark you for a long time. You can't get that little face or something they say out of your mind," she said.
Miyo Strong of Busath Photography has participated in the gallery for three years. Some children in foster care struggle with self-esteem issues. The gallery is a "fun way to feed positive energy into these kids," she said.
"For a lot of these kids, it makes them feel like a rock star. It's one-on-one attention. It's connecting with them in a special way."
The added bonus is spreading awareness about children in state custody who await adoption, said Mike Hamblin, director of foster adoptive family recruitment for the Utah Foster Care foundation.
"These are kids who really need a home. These are kids who need a family. The idea is to open people's eyes who these kids are. These are real kids who have the same hopes and dreams that any other child in our community has."