By Rita L. Soronen
Lose 10 pounds. Read a book a week. Unplug from technology an hour a day.
We all start a new year off optimistically, but too often, we fall back into our old routines because our goals were not realistic, or we were just not ready for change. This year, I challenge you to commit to a simple resolution that won’t take much of your time, but will have a significant impact on changing the narrative for children across the country: Help me correct the myths about foster care adoption.
More than 437,000 children are in foster care in the United States, 125,000 of whom have been permanently separated from their family of origin and are waiting for someone to step forward to adopt them — a 23 percent increase since 2012.
Unfortunately, the myths, misperceptions and realities surrounding foster care and foster care adoption can give many prospective parents pause. Let’s take a minute to correct some of these common myths.
Myth 1. Foster care adoption is expensive.
Foster care adoption is not expensive. It typically averages $0 to $1,500, and financial support is available to families who adopt from foster care. In addition, subsidies follow most children in foster care until they are 18 or 21 years old. Many employers provide adoption benefits, and federal and state tax credits are available. Assistance for college expenses of older youth is increasingly accessible as well. The face of adoption is changing, and you do not have to be wealthy to adopt from foster care.
To learn more about the costs associated with various types of adoption, read this article in The New York Times, in which a family who adopted with help from the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption shares their experience.
Myth 2. Children end up in foster care because they are juvenile delinquents.
The 2017 National Foster Care Adoption Attitudes Survey commissioned by the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption revealed that nearly half (46%) of Americans incorrectly believed that children entered foster care because they had done something wrong. The idea that these children are “bad” or worse “unadoptable” could not be further from the truth. Children enter foster care through no fault of their own because of abuse and neglect, and frequently experience countless layers of trauma. The unfortunate reality is that many of these children are not returning to their birth families because it is not safe.
Our foster care system is being stretched beyond its capacity, which has far-reaching impacts on children. Last year, nearly 20,000 teens turned 18 or 21 and aged out of care without a permanent home.
With nowhere to turn for support, many are at a higher risk of negative outcomes, such as homelessness, unemployment and early parenting, all of which can happen to a child who cannot go home and simply say, “I need some help.” No child is unadoptable, they just aren’t adopted. Every child needs and deserves the support of a family and caring adults to address the issues they experienced going into care, while they were waiting to be adopted and after the adoption is finalized.
Myth 3. Adoptive parents need to be heterosexual, married couples.
Families who adopt are as unique and diverse as the children in their care, and children in foster care do not need to wait for some specific notion of family. Families come in all shapes and sizes, with 28 percent of adoptive children living in single-parent homes. You do not need to own your own home, be young, wealthy, married or a stay-at-home parent. Children need loving individuals in their lives who are willing to meet the challenges of parenting, who understand the journey the child has experienced while in care and who will make a lifetime commitment to caring for and nurturing them.
Myth 4. Adoptive parents need to be under 50 years old.
There is no ideal age to become an adoptive parent. Almost 25 percent of adopted children live with a parent who is 55 years or older. Additionally, nearly 2.6 million children are being raised by grandparents or are in kinship care. It does not matter if adoptive parents already have children or have never had children. What matters is their willingness to commit to parenthood.
Myth 5. A child’s biological parent can “reclaim” them.
Almost half of the people considering foster care adoption incorrectly believe that a child’s biological parent can regain custody post-adoption. Biological parents have no way of regaining custody of a child once their parental rights are terminated. Adoptive parents have the same rights, responsibilities and protections as parents whose children were born to them. This also means children who have been adopted have all the emotional, social, legal and familial benefits of biological children. Adoption is permanent. When you adopt, it is as if the child was born to you. Always approach adoption as a long-term commitment.
With more accurate information, real-time access to resources and a supportive network, providing a safe, loving home for children in need can be a viable and joyful option for many more families and our children in need.
Our founder, Dave Thomas, always said, “These children are not someone else’s responsibility. They are our responsibility.” You can help us make sure these children do not wait any longer for the forever families they deserve. Spread the word about the critical need for foster care adoption across the United States. A simple conversation that helps spread the truth could be all it takes to change a life.
Rita Soronen is President & CEO of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. Connect with her on Twitter at @rsoronen.