There’s a magic to it when it all clicks. When the fit is right. When it feels like it has always been or was always meant to be. When it works, it’s life changing.
During National Adoption Awareness Month, the nation takes notice to what we have all come to know; adoption is a great thing when it works. Adoption from foster care, is an even more tremendous accomplishment.
In its 23rd year, celebrated in November, National Adoption Awareness Month highlights the great need for adoption from foster care. Though it’s been around for quite a while, the history of the month is unknown to many.
It all began way back in 1975 when the Governor of Massachusetts, Michael Dukakis, announced that the state would be observing an Adoption Week to promote awareness of the need for adoptive families for children in foster care. A nice act, right? It was. So much so, that only 8 years later the President of the United States Ronald Reagan, made it a national affair. Adoption Week would be a yearly observance for more than a decade when the sitting President Bill Clinton, declared that it should be for an entire month. And that’s how it has been since 1995. 2010 saw a Spanish explanation of the month, as ordered by President George W. Bush.
That may be the best part of National Adoption Awareness Month; it’s bi-partisan.
The need for adoption from foster care is so great that party lines are crossed for the cause. I’ve been to several National Adoption Awareness Month events in Washington D.C. and you would never know that these Senators and Congressmembers spent the other 11 months of the year locked in political battles. It’s the only time, with the exception of May, Foster Care Awareness Month, that the city seems inviting to both sides of the aisle.
That’s how we came to observe a National Adoption Awareness Month each November for the last 23 years. But what does it mean? What is it accomplishing? Has it been successful?
Every year 120,000 foster youth are available for adoption. Their parental rights have been terminated, they spent a big portion of their lives in care and are ready for a family to help guide them into adulthood. If no home is found, the future becomes bleak. Foster youth who age out of the system find themselves in danger of a variety of negative outcomes. Homelessness, poverty, incarceration and other obstacles all face an uncertain future.
The positivity that surrounds National Adoption Awareness Month and National Adoption Day which falls on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, a day that many families choose to finalize their adoptions, is contagious. Infectious even. I’ve heard hundreds of accounts where these events were the spark that led to subsequent adoptions.
Many states wrapped up National Adoption Awareness Month 2018 reporting record high numbers of adoptions. Clearly the campaign is working.
With so many foster youth in need of homes, what more can be done? A lot.
The greatest need, short of adoptive families for all 120,000 available foster youth, is foster parents. There are over 450,000 kids in care at last count. I assure you, the number of available foster homes is woefully underrepresented.
Another great step would be to ensure that these newly formed adoptive families have the support they need to be successful. An adoption isn’t worth anything if the child ends up back in care or wanders into adulthood without the family who promised to be there for them. Ensuring successful families ensures successful foster youth and in turn, more adoptions that find success.
I’ve been privy to many great moments in relation to adoption in November over the years. I’ve had the privilege of watching a handful of former foster youth over the age of twenty be adopted. I’ve seen sibling groups that get to stay together through the power of adoption. I have seen the joy in the faces of both the kids and the judges performing the adoptions. Joy abounds, and I get to say that I witnessed it.
I’m an adoptee myself. A badge I wear proudly.
There are so many great things to celebrate when it comes to adoption, but one would be remiss if the negatives of adoption weren’t mentioned. Rehoming isn’t just a problem for foster care, it also happens in the world of adoption. Rehoming is just what it sounds like; an adoption doesn’t work out and the child is moved to a new home. Tragic when it occurs.
Equal treatment for both adoptive and biological children can be an issue. It’s important to remember that when you are inviting someone to join your family, they should be treated as a member of your family. No different than any other family member.
While I have your attention, let me bend your ear (eye?) for a moment about a part of this that is critically important to me. Teenagers continue to flounder in care for no reason other than a misunderstanding of who these youth are and what they are capable of accomplishing.
As we all know, most kids come to foster care through no fault of their own. Abuse and neglect continue to be the main reasons kids find themselves in care. Many people are under the misconception that if a teen is in care it must be by their own doing. Fact is, many teens in care were once just kids in care. The chances of being adopted decrease the longer a kid finds themselves in care. The adoption numbers are respectable until you get to around age 9 and then they start to drop until they reach the valley that is the teen years.
And it is because of this reason that so many kids age out of the system.
For 8 years, my message about adopting teens from foster care remains the same; be the phone call. When you reach a certain age, in or out of foster care, you start proclaiming your independence. Though a parent is still needed for guidance, the workload for the parent of a teen is much lighter than the workload of say a toddler or infant. If you can just be the person who answers the phone when your teen has a question. It will make all the difference in the world. It will also, more than likely, lead to them avoiding some of the trappings that plague the teens who age out of the system.
That’s my pitch. Consider adopting a teen from care. It’s the right thing to do.
I hope you had a great National Adoption Awareness Month. I hope to share many more with you.
Nothing good comes easy, but together, we can improve the lives of so many foster youth and maybe help find homes for the 120,000 foster youth looking for a family to call their own.