A few weeks ago, President Obama declared May to be National Foster Care Month, reminding Americans that “the best path to success we can give [foster children] is the chance to experience a loving home where they can feel secure and thrive.” Thanks to churches and other faith-based organizations, thousands more children are commemorating this year’s Foster Care Month in the comfort and stability of a permanent family.
As the Washington Times recently reported, adoptions out of foster care rose to a record high of 57,000 in 2009, while the average waiting period for adoption dropped from 48 months in 1998 to 35 months in 2009. Legislative reforms and renewed adoption tax credits over the past decade played a role in helping to streamline an otherwise complex and inefficient system. Private, faith-based organizations have also helped increase adoptions in a number of states by encouraging church members to consider adopting foster children.
For instance, over the past three years, churches and states have collaborated to bring Wait No More events to churches in eight states. The one-day events introduce prospective families to the hundreds of children waiting for adoption and provide the tools, information, and network to encourage loving families to open their arms to needy children. The results in all eight states are remarkable. In Colorado alone, the number of foster children eligible and waiting for adoption was cut in half just one year after the first Wait No More event.
The success of faith-based initiatives like Wait No More should encourage policymakers to increase collaboration with private organizations to continue reforming the foster care system and meet the needs of the thousands of foster children still waiting for adoption.
Despite the increase in adoptions in recent years, many children still wait years for permanent placement, and many foster youths languish in the system until adulthood. As Thomas Atwood details in a recent Heritage paper, of the 424,000 children currently in the foster care system, roughly one-quarter have been there for more than three years, and a little over 10 percent have been there for more than five. The number of adolescents aging out of foster care (i.e., never finding a permanent family placement and entering adulthood alone) every year has risen from 19,000 to 30,000 during the last decade.
Analysis of the foster care system by the National Council for Adoption demonstrates that without the emotional, relational, and financial support structure of a loving, permanent family, these children are at an increased risk for low academic achievementand poverty.
Systemic inefficiencies often overpower the good intentions of the many social workers and government agencies charged with providing vulnerable children an effective safety net. A lack of state accountability, funding disincentives to decrease foster care rolls, and a notoriously complex bureaucracy hinder a child’s chance at swift placement in a permanent, loving home.
Sadly, for many tens of thousands of children and youth, foster care is more like a trap door than a safety net, beneath which they languish for years in multiple placements without the loving parents and permanent family that all children need and deserve. Long-term foster care is the de facto case plan for many children.
Instead of continuing the status quo that often hampers a child’s opportunity to live in a stable home, policymakers should take steps to reform the foster care bureaucracy and partner with private organizations to increase permanent placement and adoption.
As Atwood outlines, policymakers can bring efficiency and effectiveness to the foster care system by eliminating funding disincentives for states to decrease their caseloads, increasing state accountability standards, and promoting preventative services for at-risk families.
American families and the faith community can also have a tremendous impact on providing foster children the opportunity to thrive in a loving home. For every child currently waiting to be adopted, there are 500 married households and three religious congregations in America. Federal, state, and local governments should partner with faith-based organizations, encouraging and facilitating adoptions among these groups to ensure that more children can grow up in stable families.