We are abandoning children in foster care

In 2012 in the United States, 23,439 children in foster care turned 18 and were "emancipated" or "aged out." In simple terms, most of them were put out into the world on their own without housing, financial assistance or emotional support.

Rita Soronen

Rita Soronen

3.3 million reports of abuse, representing about 6 million children, or 8% of the child population. From those reports, after investigation and intervention, about 400,000 children were placed in foster care, and of those, nearly 60,000 were permanently taken away from their families of origin.

Because we know that children thrive in families -- not institutions or transient, temporary care -- we made a promise to those children. We promised the day they were permanently separated from their families that we would find them new ones. A place to call home, to be loved, supported and cherished, as every child should.

These are children who were neglected or abused by parents ... so egregiously that a judge permanently severed the parents' rights to claim the children as their own.
Rita Soronen

We failed 23,439 children last year, and legally emancipated them from care. This world is not an easy place for children to grow and thrive on their own. Too often it is not even safe place.

Make no mistake, many dedicated and skilled adults step forward to care for these children, as their social workers, counselors or temporary foster parents. Some even stay connected once a child leaves care.

And some states have worked hard to extend foster care to 21, but resources for older youth are limited and difficult to access. A Health and Human Services report found that the federal Foster Care Independence program meant to help foster children make the transition to adulthood is inconsistent from state to state and provides too little for these troubled young people. And it simply is not a substitute for a family.

Conservative studies find one in five will become homeless after 18; at 24, only half will be employed; less than 3% will have earned a college degree; 71% of women will be pregnant by 21; and one in four will have experienced post-traumatic stress disorder at twice the rate of United States war veterans. And too often, many are at risk of moving back into government systems -- from juvenile centers to prison.

Renee, now 25, was young when her mother became addicted to drugs and could no longer care for her and her brother. They were placed in foster care, moved around within the system, and eventually aged out. She had nowhere to go after foster care.

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There is a cycle of violence and helplessness innate in the lives of the hundreds of thousands of children in the U.S. foster care system. And yet millions of Americans are unaware that thousands of children remain in this cycle, and those charged with their protection fail to commit to better solutions for educational and vocational support, employment, life skills training and secure homes.

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month and is followed in May by National Foster Care Month. Take these opportunities to call your U.S. representative or senator, speak with your state representatives or write a letter to your governor to urge them to focus on the foster care system to make the health, safety and welfare of children in their states an uncompromised priority.

We can make the life of each and every American child a cause for celebration and joy. We must demand justice and safety at every level for children, not only because it is their basic human right but because those who grow and learn in just environments and with the protection of families ultimately create humane and thriving societies as adults.

Rita Soronen's opinion piece was originally published at CNN.com. Soronen is President and CEO of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption and a member of Path2Parenthood's Adoption Advisory Council.

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