By Rita Soronen, President & CEO
Sesame Street® recently introduced a new Muppet named Karli, who is living in foster care because of her mother’s struggle with addiction. Sadly, Karli’s experience has become all too common, as the opioid crisis has decimated families and communities across this country.
In telling Karli’s story, Sesame Street is helping to shine a light on a consequence of this crisis that often gets overlooked. When a parent struggles with addiction or dies from a drug overdose, what happens to their children?
On an almost daily basis, there are headlines about parents who have had their lives tragically cut short from opioid overdoses. While not all, far too many of their children end up in the foster care system. Drug abuse by a parent represented 36% of all placements into foster care last year (HHS, Children’s Bureau, Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System, 2019).
The unfortunate reality is that many of these children are not returning to their birth families because it is simply not safe. More than 125,000 children are waiting to be adopted from foster care, a 22% increase since 2013. The child welfare system is being stretched far beyond its capacity — and if not addressed, this problem has far-reaching impacts.
Every year, thousands of children in foster care turn 18 or 21 and age out of the system without a permanent home. With nowhere to turn for support, many youth are at risk of entering the same dangerous cycle of addiction that afflicted their parents and led to their placement in foster care.
We can’t turn a blind eye to the impact that the opioid crisis is having on millions of children in America. Imagine being a child who is removed from their home because of drug addiction. Many don’t understand what is happening. Many may be feeling hurt, scared, ashamed or wondering if they did something wrong. The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption is a national, nonprofit public charity dedicated to achieving the vision that every child will have a permanent home and a loving family.
Through our Wendy’s Wonderful Kids® program, the Foundation supports adoption recruiters who are dedicated to finding adoptive homes for children who are most at risk of aging out of foster care. These recruiters work with smaller caseloads of children, nearly 90% of whom are over the age of eight, and more than a third have had six or more placements in the foster care system prior to being referred to the program.
Our approach to dramatically increasing the number of adoptions from foster care across North America is evidence-based. In 2011, a rigorous five-year national evaluation by Washington, D.C.-based Child Trends revealed that a child referred to the Foundation’s program is up to three times more likely to be adopted, especially teenagers, children with special needs and siblings. The Foundation is aggressively working to expand this child-focused recruitment program across the country to address the growing need for adoptive families.
This year, we visited Middleborough, Massachusetts to meet with Maya and Hannah Fontaine, who shared the incredible pain and neglect they experienced before adoption because they want other children to be adopted too.
Maya and Hannah’s parents battled substance abuse. At age 10, Maya had to drive her mom and dad home after they passed out behind the wheel. Hannah was in the backseat. “My parents brought two girls into this world who ended up in foster care. I just thought, if they were gone, who would take care of [Hannah],” Maya shared.
For six years, the sisters bounced between foster homes and living with their birth parents. In 2017, they were adopted with support from their adoption recruiter, Laura.
The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption is fighting the clock so that children, like Maya and Hannah, don’t age out of the foster care system and enter a cycle of addiction or become victims of other negative outcomes, like homelessness, incarceration and early parenting — all of which can happen to a child who can’t go home and say, “I need some help.”
Sesame Street has provided an opening to initiate conversations about this important issue — now it is up to all of us to make a commitment, as a nation, to support children waiting to be adopted from foster care who need our help the most.
More than 125,000 children are waiting to be adopted from foster care in the United States. Donate to help find forever families for children who have been waiting the longest.