National Adoption Month reminds us there are still too many children who need the permanency of a stable and loving family. The U.S. has more than 424,000 children in foster care. More than 122,000 of these children are adoptable and waiting for their forever family.
But it’s not just the numbers of children in care that’s concerning. Too many remain in care for far too long. More than 50% have been in foster care for more than a year. The kids who are left behind are typically those who need love the most: children age nine and older, siblings that want to stay together, and kids with intellectual or physical disabilities.
Sadly, around 20,000 young people age out of foster care every year without any legal connection to a family. The long-term effects are troubling: 4 in 10 will experience homelessness, 71% of the young women will be pregnant by age 21, and more than 25% will end up incarcerated.
In June, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that offers renewed hope to these children. The executive order makes practical, long-term changes to increase local transparency, bring more resources to parents, and hold states more accountable to the requirements of the law.
The executive order will make policy changes that could increase the number of children who find their forever homes, but there is still much that ordinary citizens can do to support children in care and their biological, foster, and adoptive parents.
The job of helping children find their forever homes is too big to be handled by government alone. State and local child welfare agencies do heroic work, but they are typically overwhelmed: Three in 10 of the nation’s caseworkers cycle out every year. These government agencies must rely on their local community to serve the children and families who come into contact with the child welfare agency.
One of the best sources of local support are “bridge organizations”—groups that organize local faith-based organizations, such as churches and non-profits, to create long-term relationships between caseworkers and local communities.
These bridge organizations can help biological families before they reach the point where a child has to be removed, help foster parents with their needs, and provide long-term support to new adoptive families.
Bridge organizations, including those in your area, can make a difference because of ordinary citizens who give of their time and means to make a difference in the lives of children in foster care.
Here are some practical ways to get involved:
- Donate Funds or Supplies. Foster and adoptive families aren’t always equipped for the varied needs of the children who enter their home at a moment’s notice. Local child welfare agencies or bridge organizations often need cribs, clothes, or school supplies. Getting involved can even be as simple as coordinating a meal sign-up calendar for new foster parents.
- Provide Professional Services. Professionals can provide biological, foster, and adoptive parents and children with the services they might need, such as quality legal representation, mental health services, and even tutoring for children who get off track in school. Local businesses can offer discounts for foster and adoptive families. Every bit helps.
- Offer Emotional and Spiritual Support. Support groups for struggling families can be vital in helping families connect to people who care and can step in when needs arise.
- Get Licensed for Respite Care. Biological parents can call a babysitter or drop the kids with their grandparents, but that isn’t always an option for foster or adoptive parents. Becoming a licensed respite care provider with your state allows you to offer babysitting or weekend relief to foster families in your community.
- Begin the Process to Foster or Adopt. Becoming a foster or adoptive parent is a calling, but bridge organizations can make the process both understandable and doable. They hold recruiting sessions with interested families, help families through the foster care process, and connect them to support that will enable the entire family to flourish.
- Call or Write to Your Representative. National Adoption Month is a great time to contact your state or federal representative to ask what they are doing to ensure that no child in your state is forgotten. Ask how many children in your state are waiting for adoption. Advocate for the complete implementation of the Executive Order on Strengthening the Child Welfare System for America’s Children.
Not all of us may be called to foster or adopt, but everyone can do something to lessen the instability of foster care and bring the hundreds of thousands of children in care to their forever homes.