Op-ed by Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa
November 17, 2017
Since 1995, Congress has recognized November as National Adoption Month. It’s a time to celebrate adoptive families and spread awareness of the more than 110,000 children in foster care nationwide waiting to be adopted. This year, National Adoption Month’s focus is on the teenagers in foster care who often face more challenges in the adoption process than younger children.
As founder and co-chair of the Senate Caucus on Foster Youth, I regularly have the opportunity to hear from foster youth from across the country. More than anything else, they tell me that they want love, stability and a place to call home. There are unfair stereotypes and myths that affect teens in foster care. Addressing these misconceptions is critical to understanding the importance of adoption for all children and working to reduce barriers standing in the way of their adoption.
Myth: Teenagers in foster care were placed there because of behavioral problems or delinquency.
The majority of children in foster care, no matter their age, were placed in care due to the actions of their biological parents or legal guardians, most commonly neglect or abuse. Cases where criminal activity committed by a child result in foster care placement are rare. When they do exist, such situations are often linked to trauma, neglect or abuse at home. In these cases, there is even greater need for loving, committed families to open their hearts and homes.
Myth: Teenagers in foster care don’t want to be adopted.
Foster care is always intended to be a temporary living situation, not a permanent solution. When kids enter foster care, a plan is developed for their time in care, which includes a goal of eventually leaving care. For many, the end-goal of foster care is to be reunited with their biological family. However, for 25 percent of all kids in foster care, the goal is adoption. There are around 110,000 children nationwide in foster care waiting to be adopted. Of these, more than 26,000 are between the ages of 12 and 17. Ten percent of these kids have been in foster care for more than five years, and the average child has been in foster care for two years. No matter their age, all children desire and deserve the same thing: a loving, permanent family and a place to call home.
Myth: Adopting an adolescent who will soon be an adult is less rewarding.
The bond between parent and child doesn’t end at the age of 18 or when a young adult begins living on their own. The comfort, support and care that a family provides lasts a lifetime. In order to successfully navigate the transition to adulthood, teens need guidance and support. From making a decision about higher education, to interviewing for a first job, to buying a car, parents continually offer support and help their kids succeed. Even after a child turns 18, they benefit from their parents’ experiences and rely on them as they navigate the challenges of young adulthood. Families are the building blocks for strong communities and strong families span generations. The connections between parents and their adult children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are invaluable.
Myth: It’s too expensive to adopt an older child from foster care.
Adoption from foster care is generally less expensive than adopting through a private agency. Although it varies from state to state, support is available to reduce the financial burdens of adoption. Adopting a child over the age of five, a sibling group, or a member of a minority group may qualify an adoptive family for additional financial support.
During my tenure in the Senate, I’ve worked to promote policies that make adoption from foster care a reality for more children across the country. In 2008, I introduced the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act, which provided additional federal incentives for states to move children from foster care to adoptive homes. It made it easier for foster children to be permanently cared for by their own relatives, and to stay in their home communities. In 2011, I worked to reauthorize grants that support families who struggle with substance abuse and that improve the well-being of children who are not in their homes or are likely to be removed because of parental substance abuse.
Whether children are newborns or teenagers, our focus should be on placing foster youth in permanent, loving homes.
Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa is the founder and co-chair of the Senate Caucus on Foster Youth.