November is National Adoption Month.
President Ronald Reagan launched the first ‘National Adoption Week’ in 1984. Later, in 1995, President Clinton expanded it making November ‘National Adoption Month’. The observance was created as a time to affirm our commitment to giving America’s abandoned, abused, and neglected children “the chance to become part of a family.”
With 114,000 American children waiting to be adopted, the need for parents is urgent. The foster care system has reached a breaking point with an estimated one home available for every two kids in need.
To meet a few of the boys and girls waiting to be adopted, spend a minute on AdoptUSkids.org. In Texas, siblings Harley, Kaley, Austin, and Haley hope to be adopted together by a family who loves pets. In North Carolina, 12-year-old Tatjaina enjoys going to school. In Oklahoma, 13-year-old Donna loves to draw. Regardless of their backgrounds, what these children share in common is the need to have a family before the clock runs out on their childhoods.
As a foster mom for a decade and adoptive parent of four, I’ve had a ringside seat to the best and worst of the American foster care system. For many children, the system is temporary. Safe families are quickly found. Children thrive.
But for too many children, the system is a life-sentence. My godson suffered 47 placements over the course of nearly 15 years. Tens of thousands of other children disappear every year, some on the run and others trafficked.
This year’s National Adoption Month theme is “Small Steps Open Doors” to emphasize how even taking small steps can help overcome the challenges children waiting to be adopted face. Every community can consider these ideas to connect children with the safe and loving families they deserve.
First, state agencies should find relatives immediately. When an abandoned, abused, or neglected child enters foster care, the initial hope is that the child will be able to return home or stay with relatives. But too often, officials disregard federal law that requires relative searches.
Requiring agencies to file affidavits of their searches with the courts brings important accountability to this key law. Relations end up adopting nearly 35% of children in need and are critical to reducing waiting lists. The sooner they’re found, the better.
Second, agencies should encourage good foster families to adopt. Because the laws give preference to biological connections, many agencies tell families they should only be interested in fostering. This deters and turns away many families who are willing both to foster and adopt.
The reality is that 55% of waiting children will be adopted by foster families. Of the 10 boys and girls I fostered, five returned to relatives, and five needed new homes. Let’s encourage those with the ability to foster to become forever families, too. The process to foster and adopt also can be collapsed into one streamlined license.
We should also listen to potential adoptive families. According to the Dave Thomas Foundation, 75% of families considering foster care adoption say having financial support for the child’s emotional and physical needs would make the biggest difference in their decision to adopt.
Arizona, for instance, offers a one-time payment of $2,000 to reimburse parents for expenses incurred in the legal process of adopting a child. Adoptive parents also receive a modest monthly stipend until the adopted child turns 18. These policies could be strengthened by extending benefits longer for children adopted at older ages, who often require intense family and therapeutic support long past the age of 18.
States can consider policies that help adoptive families through their lifetimes such as extending state health insurance to the family, giving long-time adoptive families state pensions, and offering free college tuition to adopted kids.
Policies that defray the costs of adopting abused children balance the ledger. The alternative to spending now is a tremendous taxpayer drain in the future. When children age out of the system without families, 25% are incarcerated within the first two years of adulthood. Three out of four girls are pregnant before age 21. Not even 5% will graduate from college. The grim statistics recall Michael J. Fox’s heartfelt quote, “Family is not an important thing. It’s everything.”
Above all, every abused child should be entitled to an attorney with a duty to zealously advocate for their rights. Children with attorneys exit the system for families up to 3.5 times faster than children without them.
With tens of thousands of children in need and millions of parents hoping to adopt, we need to simply build the bridges that will let these families join together, forever.
Darcy Olsen is an advocate for children who has devoted her life to strengthening rights for abandoned and abused kids. In 2017, Darcy founded The Center for the Rights of Abused Children to start advocating for change. Since then, they have changed more than 30 laws across the country impacting 500,000 kids. In 2022, the Arizona Capitol Times named Olsen a Leader of the Year for her profound impact improving the quality of life for children. Before launching The Center for the Rights of Abused Children, Darcy served as CEO of the Goldwater Institute. Darcy is a graduate of the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and received her master’s degree from New York University. She has testified widely in state capitols and before Congress. Darcy lives in Phoenix with her four children, all adopted from foster care.
The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.