By Rita Soronen, Cynthia Billey and Michael Nash
In November, we celebrated the 20th anniversary of National Adoption Day, during which thousands of children were adopted from foster care at events in communities nationwide. It is a joyous occasion, especially for children who often have waited years for a permanent family.
Sadly, the number of children still waiting for a safe, loving home is far too high, and we must continue to address this crisis with urgency and intention.
National Adoption Day began in Los Angeles, through the innovative efforts of the Los Angeles Juvenile Court, the Alliance for Children’s Rights, Public Counsel and the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services, which collaborated to open the court on Saturdays and engage volunteer attorneys to finalize a large number of backlogged adoptions.
Our intention was to reduce the number of children whose adoption cases were caught up in bureaucracy and bring attention to the ongoing need for adoptive families for children who could not safely return home to a birth parent.
Building on the Los Angeles model, a coalition of national partners — the Alliance for Children’s Rights, the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, Freddie Mac Foundation, the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute and Children’s Action Network — encouraged nine cities in November 2000 to join in a national movement to expedite foster care adoptions and open their courthouses each year on the Saturday before Thanksgiving.
By 2007, National Adoption Day was celebrated in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Our goal, as we built this grassroots movement together with courts and child welfare agencies in every state, was to raise public awareness of the thousands of children waiting to be adopted from foster care in the United States and to celebrate all of the loving families that adopt.
We have made incredible progress. To date, the dreams of nearly 75,000 children in foster care have come true as part of National Adoption Day.
Laverne Moore-Jenkins and her husband, Terry, are one of many who have a special place in their hearts for National Adoption Day. They adopted their daughter, Raychelle, through the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption’s Wendy’s Wonderful Kids program.
Raychelle officially became a Jenkins on National Adoption Day in 2014. Laverne and Terry have been fostering children for nearly 30 years in addition to raising nine of their own.
They have always enjoyed working with teens especially, to help them gain the skills needed to transition out of the foster care system and always have a place to call home. When Raychelle was placed in their care, Laverne didn’t want to let her go. “Had Raychelle aged out of foster care, her only option was to go to a group home,” Laverne says. “I knew that wasn’t a good place for her, and I wanted to make this her home.”
By the time Raychelle joined the Jenkins family at the age of 15, she’d lived in about 26 homes. “She had lost a lot in all those transitions,” Laverne adds. “She is deaf and developmentally delayed. When we first met her, she only knew about 10 words of American Sign Language (ASL).” She was in good company: Laverne and Terry didn’t know ASL either.
Now they sign to each other, and Raychelle knows hundreds of words. Communication isn’t the only improvement Raychelle has made. Laverne describes Raychelle as shy and withdrawn at first. After a time, she came out of her shell. “She is my social butterfly,” Laverne laughs. “Always giving everyone hugs and compliments I have to translate. She’s truly happy now.”
Unfortunately, more than 125,000 children and youth are still waiting to be adopted from foster care, a 23 percent increase since 2012 (HHS, Children’s Bureau, Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System, 2019).
State child welfare systems nationwide are being stretched far beyond capacity. Every year, thousands of children in foster care turn 18 or 21 and age out of the system without a permanent home, including more than 1,000 teens per year in Los Angeles. With nowhere to turn for support, many youth are at risk of negative outcomes, like homelessness, incarceration or early parenting, which can happen when a child can’t go home and say, “I need some help.”
As leaders in this movement, we are sounding the alarm: people must start talking and taking action to ensure that every child has a permanent home and a loving family.
Reaching that goal will require us collectively to devise new solutions and take bold actions, like the innovations that led to National Adoption Day, and the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption’s child-focused recruitment program, which has been proven up to three times more effective at finding adoptive homes for children who have been waiting in foster care the longest.
Each of us can make a difference — visit nationaladoptionday.org to learn more and get involved today. Together, we truly can change the lives of children, like Raychelle, still waiting in foster care who need our help the most.
Rita Soronen is the president and CEO of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. Cynthia J. Billey, Esq. is the director of the Foster Care Adoption Program, Alliance for Children’s Rights. Judge Michael Nash (Ret.) is the director of the Los Angeles County Office of Child Protection.
This op-ed was originally published by The Hill.