NATIONAL FOSTER CARE MONTH AND THE CONTINUING NEED FOR OUR CHILDREN AND YOUTH
by Rita Soronen
Posted on May 8, 2018
In the United States, more than 117,000 children are in foster care waiting to be adopted. 117,000 children and youth who, through no fault of their own, have been abused, neglected or abandoned and are now in substitute family or institutional care, waiting for someone to step forward to provide the family they deserve. The hard reality is that too many of these children linger in care for years and leave at age 18 without the adoptive family we promised – last year more than 23,000 children aged out of care without a family to call their own.
Additionally, after a decade of declining numbers of children going into care, nationally, most states are now experiencing steep increases in their foster care populations. More than 437,000 children are in foster care, representing a 2.3 percent increase over the prior year. There are many reasons, most visibly the misuse of and addiction to opioids including heroin and prescription pain killers, that is forcing a record number of families into crisis and movement into the child welfare system. Our children are suffering the consequences of parental substance abuse and, too often, are watching a parent die.
With hundreds of thousands of our children moving through the child welfare system, during this month – National Foster Care Month - our founder, Dave Thomas’ words take on even greater weight: “These children are not someone else’s responsibility; they are our responsibility.” This month gives us an elevated platform to focus on the children in care, the families who may be considering foster care or adoption and the notion of community responsibility for our most vulnerable.
Every child, no matter what age they are, how they identify culturally or as an LGBTQ youth, or what borders or journey have defined their life, every child deserves a safe family and a permanent home. The dynamics of fostering and adopting continue to evolve. Every day, more and more LGBTQ people are exploring adoption through foster care, while agencies are working to assure that LGBTQ youth are supported in care. But challenges for youth and adults alike remain.
According to one report, LGBTQ youth are one and a half to two times more likely than their heterosexual peers to be placed in the foster care system and are often more likely to experience disparities in care, hospitalization, placement in a group home, or runaway from care. Additionally, LGBTQ youth are at a high risk for homelessness and elevated levels of adversity. While child welfare agencies across the nation are working to better serve this population, there remain opportunities to enhance the competencies and training of the professionals and potential families involved to become more sensitive and expert in the challenges LGBTQ youth face.
LGBTQ Families / Foster and adoption
Every child deserves a safe and supportive permanent family. Every qualified adult who takes on the responsibility to become a foster or adoptive parent deserves the time, training and support to assume these critical community roles. With marriage equality and communities that are more welcoming and affirming of LGBTQ individuals, fostering and adopting is a reality for an increasing number of LGBTQ adults.
There are a number of steps that can assist with making the decision to adopt a child from foster care, including:
- Research and learn all you can about the organizations you want to approach about beginning the process to adopt. They should be responsive to your questions as you consider your options. The Human Rights Campaign has also identified those organizations that are leaders in serving LGBTQ children and families across the nation. You can view the list here.
- Do a personal and family assessment. Understand your needs for a family. Would you be more suited to an infant, a school-aged child or a teenager? Are you prepared to learn about the dynamics of abuse and trauma that children in care experience and able to reach out for help when needed? What are your expectations for family? Are you inclined to care for a child with mental or physical challenges? What is your willingness to engage with the child welfare, education, health care and justice systems, as you make the journey through foster care adoption? Do you have the kind of support systems in place that can assist you as you become a parent?
- Once you make the commitment to adopt from foster care, attend all classes and learning opportunities provided, while you connect with other parents who have followed a similar journey. A supportive network for you and your family is an important part of this process.
- Remember that this can be a journey fraught with roadblocks, delays and unexpected events. It is important to dig deep to see if you have the patience and willingness to dedicate yourself not only to a complex process, but a permanent forever home for a child in need.
There are 117,000 reasons to consider adopting from foster care, this month and every month of the year. 117,000 children from birth to 18 who, through no fault of their own, today are waiting for someone to step forward, to celebrate them, to love them and to be their forever family. You just might be that mom or dad that they are waiting for.
Rita L. Soronen is President & CEO of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption