United States Foster Care Epidemic
In the United States, more than 20,000 youth age out of foster care each year. This means when youth turn eighteen (21, in some states) or when they finish high school, the state is no longer responsible for them. When the child becomes an adult, the foster home has the legal right to kick them out, quite literally, with nothing more than the shirt on their back.
The Dave Thomas Foundation (DTF) is an organization specializing in foster care adoptions. Dave Thomas, founder of Wendy’s fast food chain, was adopted when he was six weeks old because his birth mother wasn’t married. In 1992, he founded DTF to educate about foster care adoption.
In 2004, DTF created Wendy’s Wonderful Kids, a service program in collaboration with Wendy’s restaurant to provide homes for children in foster care. Since the creation of Wendy’s Wonderful Kids in 2004, they’ve placed over 6500 children in permanent homes.
Debunking Foster Care Adoption Myth
Why do so many children age out of foster care? A big part of this results from lack of education about foster care and the requirements for adopting.
The following are common misconceptions:
It costs a lot of money:
This is false. Aside from the requirements to become a certified foster home (fingerprinting, physical exam, and certain safety measures such as putting a gate around your pool or keeping your medicines are locked up), you won’t pay a penny. If there are costs to finalize the adoption, the county reimburses them. In fact, most places provide a monthly stipend and health insurance through the child’s eighteenth birthday.
Children end up in foster care because they’re bad:
Children are taken into foster care, also known as protective custody, because they need just that: protection. For whatever reason, their home isn’t safe. There might be physical or sexual abuse, neglect, exposure to drugs, or other illegal and dangerous activities. These children have done nothing wrong; their parents just cannot or will not keep them safe.
Parents can get their kids back after adoption is finalized:
Once adoption is finalized, the birth parents cannot get them back. The adoptive parents are considered the parents in all legal respects. A new birth certificate is issued with the adoptive parents’ names replacing the birth parents’ names; the child’s prior birth certificate is no longer a legal document.
In addition, there are several checks and balances to ensure birth parents cannot regain custody. First of all, birth parents are given numerous opportunities to show they can pull their lives together and keep their children safe. If they are unable to prove that, parental rights are terminated. Second, there is a mandatory wait period of at least three months after parental rights are removed before adoption can be finalized. This is to give the birth parents time to contest the ruling. Only if there has been an error on the county’s part will the parents be given another chance to regain custody.
After the three-month period, adoption may be finalized. And once that paper is signed, there is no going back!
I’m not qualified to adopt:
These are the only things required to adopt through foster care: age eighteen or older; steady income; physically, mentally and emotionally healthy; and meet the foster home certification requirements.
It doesn’t matter if you’re single or married, gay or straight, black or white, as young as twenty or as old as sixty, you can adopt.
For more information about adopting through foster care, visit www.adoptuskids.org.
Other Ways to Help
There are over 140,000 children currently in foster care in the United States who are free for adoption. This means their parents’ rights have been terminated and they are legal orphans. If they are not adopted, they will spend their childhood – a time that’s supposed to be carefree and innocent – in and out of different foster homes, never knowing the safety and permanency of family.
Foster care adoption isn’t for everyone but there are numerous other ways you can help.
Businesses, such as Sleep Train, offer donation drives to give children in foster care school supplies, jackets, pajamas, and more. Wendy’s sells coupons for junior frosties every year around the Halloween season, with eighty percent of proceeds going to DTF. There are organizations dedicated to providing foster children with luggage so they have a proper container, not garbage bags, to transport their possessions when they move from foster home to foster home.
Become a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA volunteer) for foster children. After passing a background check and undergoing training, you work with foster children to gather information about the case, appear in court to advocate for the child’s best interests, and follow up to ensure the plans are being followed.
Another way to help is by mentoring a child who has aged out of foster care. These children often leave the system with no life skills to make it on their own. Some examples are showing them how to set up a checking account and budget, helping them build a resume and find a job, walking them through the process to sign an apartment lease and hook up their utilities. The mentoring relationship may morph into a friendship or familial relationship, or it may stay “professional.”
Find nonprofit organizations dedicated to helping foster children and donate your time, money or requested items. Consider creating a donation box at your workplace or your child’s school.
Support foster parents and those who have adopted through foster care. Children adopted through care often have difficulties trusting others, especially at the beginning of a placement. This causes stress at home, which can permeate other aspects of life, such as work. Support by way of a kind word or a listening ear go a long way towards helping parents cope with the challenges.
Perhaps most important thing you can do is to educate the public. Share what you know via social media, volunteer for organizations to get the word out, speak at public events, and any other way you can think of to be a voice for these children. November is National Adoption month. People who have adopted come together to share their stories and celebrate family. This is a great way to learn more and spread the word.
Every day children age out of foster care with no place to call home, no person to call family. Children deserve a place to belong with people who love them. If you can’t provide a home for a child in care, consider helping them in one of the ways listed above.