Let’s not mistake doing what feels good for doing what is right.
Recently, I’ve read a number of articles in newspapers from Maryland to Florida highlighting community efforts for enhancing services for children who age out of care. On the surface, that feels right. We know that children who turn 18 or 21 and leave foster care without a family are at much higher risk of homelessness, unemployment, substance abuse, being early parents and, too often, incarceration. Not because they are bad kids – but because they don’t have the safety net that every child needs and deserves – a family to support them through both good and bad times, to listen and guide, to defend and celebrate.
In fact, last year, nearly 29,000 children plummeted into this no-win status of still waiting to be adopted, but too old for foster care. In response, state and federal agencies have developed mentor programs, employment services and educational efforts that connect these children to activities a family would otherwise provide. But let’s be clear – these services cannot offer the comfort, wisdom and safety of family. In this country, we applaud those who prepare children for emancipation from the system. But are those same people also looking for ways to get these children adopted? It is not too late. It’s never too late.
For every effort and expenditure we make to provide services for children who leave foster care without the family we promised, we need to work even harder to do our first job – adoption from foster care. When children are permanently removed from their family, we make a promise to them. That we will find another that is safe, nurturing and permanent. Not for some of the children available for adoption, but for all of the children. Unfortunately, we make excuses for our failures to find a family – the child is too old, or they are part of a sibling group, or they have a disability, or there are just too many on the caseload to get the job done. Unacceptable excuses for an unconscionable result – emancipation of children.
We know, through a rigorous evidence-based, child-focused adoption practice that every child who is available for adoption from foster care can be adopted. Wendy’s Wonderful Kids, a signature program of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, not only increases the likelihood of adoption for older youth but it increases that likelihood by up to three times.
We can always applaud what makes us feel good about working with children. It is time to demand that we first do what is right.