Did you know there are nearly half a million children in the US foster care system? Each year, just 150,000 children are adopted, with only one-third coming from foster care. The majority of these young people spend months –– even years––waiting for a home to call their own. Here at Children’s Home & Aid, we know that the waiting, the doubt and the trauma of a young person caught in the limbo of the foster care system can do irreparable harm, hence, our deeply-rooted, agency-wide vision of preventing the need for foster care as we know it and resolving to provide tools and support that strengthen families––and, ideally, keep them intact––by listening to what they say they need before manageable challenges snowball into bigger, longer-term problems.
While we believe that foster care should be a solution of last resort, for hundreds of thousands of children it is a reality. It’s why each November the Children’s Bureau, in partnership with AdoptUSKids and the Child Welfare Information Gateway recognize National Adoption Month, who create visibility around the critical need for finding permanency for the children, teenagers, and young adults who are currently in foster care and have undergone the trauma of being separated from their families and communities. It is also a celebration of those who have taken on the meaningful and life-changing role of adoptive parents.
Lori is a grandmother who partnered with us through the process of fostering and then adopting her grandchildren. “When I took in my daughter’s children––I just needed support. When I met Children’s Home & Aid staff, I leaned on them,” Lori shared in a recent interview. “The training that I had––especially the trauma trainings––helped me tremendously.” Her oldest grandson went from a frightened and confused kindergartener who would throw things and act out to a third grader at the top of his class in English who knows how to manage his emotions when he gets upset. “Learning about trauma helped me to see the signs in my grandson. I taught him some of the tools I’d picked up to calm himself down and work through his feelings––things like deep breathing.”
Children Need Permanence to Thrive
According to the “State of American’s Children 2021” report from the Children’s Defense Fund, a child is removed from their home and placed into foster care every two minutes. It’s not surprising then that big states like Texas and California have in excess of 30,000 and 50,000 children in foster care respectively. And the numbers show that children of color are dramatically overrepresented in the child welfare system with nearly 10 out of every 1,000 Black children are in foster care, and 17 out of every 1,000 American Indian/Alaska Native children are in foster care. From data gathered by the Adoption Network, about 135,000 children are adopted in the United States each year, and approximately 59% of these children are from the child welfare or foster system. These statistics are staggering, highlighting just how much work there is to be done if we want to transform how we support youth and families to be more effective.
Before coming to Children’s Home & Aid and adopting her grandkids, Lori remembers the many barriers she encountered as a foster caregiver over the years. “I felt like I was all alone navigating the system by myself. I had a lot of questions with no answers. There wasn’t a lot of compassion or empathy to be found.” Lori knew from her own experiences that she had to help others going through the same thing, leading to her decision to go back to school. “I thought to myself something has to change. That’s why I’m working so hard now. I want to help improve the system for families like mine.”
Children’s Home & Aid Creates Diverse Solutions for Diverse Families
We recognize that there are not enough caregivers or foster families, especially not for children of color, those with special needs, or those with other differences such as being a member of the LGBTQIA+ community. Because of these issues, we strive to change the current foster care system and create more effective solutions.
Children’s Home & Aid has implemented the essential elements of LGBTQ+ inclusion in policies and affirming practices. As a result, we have received recognition for a Solid Foundation for Inclusion from the Human Rights Campaign. With this solid foundation for inclusion, we not only have non-discriminatory policies and practices, but we actively “roll out the welcome mat” to the LGBTQ+ community. We have also assessed our practices specific to youth and parents to ensure the inclusion of LGBTQ+ youth and we continue to make these efforts sustainable for the long term.
In addition to providing a safe space for members of the LGBTQIA+ community, we support children and families by actively working toward kinship care and adoption as a solution to transforming the current child welfare system. Lori is just one of the many family members who have partnered with us in this capacity to help children feel safe and secure while staying connected with their friends, relatives, and culture, and communities. “I didn’t hesitate for a second when I was asked if I wanted to continue caring for my grandchildren as an adoptive parent. I wasn’t going to step away from being there,” Lori reflects. “I’ve never regretted my decision. I love them. They’ve gone through so much. My grandkids bring me so much joy. We laugh every day.”
When asked about the advice she’d give other family members who are navigating similar decisions, she is adamant about listening to your heart. “You know your family better than anyone in the world. You know what your grandchild needs. Fight for those babies,” Lori emphasizes. “Whether you’re a grandma or an aunt or another relative, you can help them feel like everything is going to be ok even when their world is upside down. That’s all they want—stability in a home that feels familiar.”
Every Conversation Matters
The Children’s Bureau initiated National Adoption Month to increase awareness of adoption issues, bring attention to the need for adoptive families for teens in the U.S. foster care system, and emphasize the value of youth engagement in shaping effective programs and services. Each year, The Children’s Bureau focuses outreach and awareness-raising efforts around a new adoption-related theme to help support professionals working each day to find permanency for children and youth in foster care in their community. This year’s theme is “Conversations Matter,” which shines a light on the vital role youth in care have to play in advocating for the programs, resources, and support that will be the most effective in their healing. Every one of these children has a story and a journey that needs to be supported.
At Children’s Home & Aid, we want every child, family, and community to thrive. Youth are the experts of their own lives. It is important that they be able to participate in the permanency planning process and make decisions about their life. By listening to a young person about what their goals are, they can begin to build trust, ask questions, and share how they feel about adoption. It’s not about finding one solution. It’s about discovering the combination of strategies and tools that make the most sense for honoring their whole wellbeing, identity, and experiences. And that includes building a nurturing network of family, relatives, friends, and others who support them.
When it comes to understanding and supporting youth who have experienced trauma, no one knows better than Lori just how much conversations matter. “The kids miss their mom. Now that she’s clean, we’re working to build a relationship back for the boys,” Lori says. “It’s my job as a grandma to listen and show them love. I’m thankful I can be a part of helping them heal as they grow up.”
How Can I Walk Alongside Families?
We are incredibly grateful for—and need more—foster and adoptive families. Unfortunately, the number of youth seeking stability and unconditional love far outweighs the number of caregivers and families who are able to provide it. We hope you’ll join us in raising awareness about this immense need in communities across the country. Every step of the way, we’re listening to youth and families to make sure we’re providing support in the most effective way possible.
If you are interested in supporting families so that all children and youth feel connected, supported, and able to thrive, you can learn more about how to make a donation and the other opportunities for becoming involved in our work. Or if you know anyone else who may have room in their homes and hearts to walk alongside youth and their families, you can read about our intact family services, foster care services, and foster to adopt services, or simply contact Children’s Home & Aid today.