Child abuse is among the most difficult subjects imaginable to discuss. Just thinking about the abuse, maltreatment or neglect of children too young or too powerless to defend themselves can be emotionally wrenching. Older youth can become deeply troubled by the recognition that they were abandoned or maltreated simply because of who they are. The reality of child abuse forces us to confront the disturbing notion that the very adults charged with the safety and care of their children have done just the opposite.
This is a subject — however uncomfortable — that demands our attention. Nationwide in 2013 there were nearly 680,000 confirmed cases of child abuse and neglect. With this many children being bruised and scarred by abuse and neglect, whether physical, emotional or sexual, it is immoral and unacceptable to merely avert our eyes.
This raises a natural question: What can we do? There are many ways to help make a difference, but the most direct and surest way to make a profound, life-changing impact in the life of a child who has experienced abuse or neglect is to adopt a waiting child from the foster care system.
Nearly half of Americans incorrectly believe that children end up in foster care because of their own juvenile delinquency. The fact is that children enter the system due to parental abuse or neglect, not through any fault of their own. More than 250,000 children entered the foster care system in 2013, simply because they were not cared for as they deserved to be.
The foster care system provides an indispensable refuge for these children; from unsafe homes, abusive parents, and other unhealthy environments. However, the foster care system is not, and was not designed to be, a permanent place for children after parental rights have been terminated. To receive the stability, support and love that every child needs, children available for adoption within the foster care system need permanent homes.
The benefits are clear; children adopted out of foster care have lower risks of homelessness and unemployment, lower incidences of early parenthood, and lower risks of incarceration compared to their peers who “age out” of foster care without being matched with adoptive families.
No child should become an adult without having experienced being part of a family, yet last year more than 23,000 children in the foster care system turned 18 and left the structure of care without a family. Another 37,000 were in long-term foster care and moving toward aging out.
There are no easy fixes for a problem as broad and complicated as child abuse and neglect, and foster care adoption is no exception. Children waiting for adoption have had disruptive home lives; they’ve been separated from their birth parents – and often from siblings or extended family – and have often experienced trauma that leaves them with feelings of loss, grief, and a fear of rejection.
But these children don’t need to wait for some idealized notion of family – they simply need loving individuals in their lives who are willing to meet the challenges of parenting and to make a lifetime commitment to caring for and nurturing them. Families are as unique and diverse as the children in care and we should embrace, support and celebrate those who step forward to adopt.
If you are an individual or couple who has ever considered adoption, I encourage you to learn more about foster care adoption and whether you might make a good fit for a child’s needs. The rewards – for you and for a child in need of a loving home – will last a lifetime, and build a legacy of family for generations to come.