Tag Archives: child welfare

When Independence is a Problem

July 26, 2011

Just a few weeks ago, on the 4th of July, America again celebrated its independence. The very word “independence” evokes positive images and sentiments worthy of celebration: the freedom to be who one chooses, the ability to carve one’s own path, the right to determine one’s own destiny. For one group in our country, however, independence seldom affords any of those opportunities: the nearly 28,000 youth who “age out” of foster care each year.

These young men and women are legally emancipated to make it on their own, but usually without families or resources to help them, so they are left to travel a road to nowhere. In disproportionate numbers, they wind up pregnant, on the street, out of school, or in jail.

State governments typically take custody of these boys and girls as children because they were being abused or neglected, with the implicit promise that they will be given safer, better lives. But too many wind up being shuttled from home to home, from school to school. Too many are never returned to their original families or moved into new ones, are never connected with adults who stick with them and guide them, and are never provided with the developmental, emotional and social benefits that are best achieved through permanency. And then, when they reach the age of 18 or 21, they are granted their independence.

Simply put, as a society, we have failed them.

A new report by the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, entitled “Never Too Old,” points out that while adoptions of younger children from foster care have been rising significantly, the success rate for older ones remains anemic. The report examines the array of state and federal initiatives that focus on these youth – and finds many to be  effective or promising – but concludes that far more needs to be done; suggests that these young people should become a national priority; and recommends steps to achieve greater progress for them.

In keeping with the Institute’s focus on permanency for all children, “Never Too Old” looks not just at adoption, but at reunification, subsidized guardianship, long-term foster care, and other effective approaches that can achieve lasting, supportive connections. The Institute’s recommendations, based on over a year of research and analysis, include:

  • Increase recruitment, support and utilization of relatives as permanency resources for youth, both through adoption and subsidized guardianships
  • Work for true permanency for every youth, meaning a family or enduring adult connection; emancipation, “independent living” and the like should be last resorts – not goals.
  • Assess controversial steps such as restoring the rights of biological parents whose children were removed from their homes, and conduct more research into what works and doesn’t.

How many of us believe our sons and daughters – even when they have had stable upbringings in affluent families, have received solid educations and have blossomed into thoughtful, mature young people – are ready to make it alone in the world without guidance, resources or support from family members or other adults?

A core conclusion in the Adoption Institute report, based on research and experience, is that permanent, emotionally sustaining and committed relationships are imperative for all youth to reach self-sufficiency and to thrive in early adulthood. Yet the proportion of those in foster care who are being granted their “independence,” without any such help, has grown from about 7 percent in FY 1998 to 11 percent in FY 2010.

For our country, the social and economic consequences of this national embarrassment are significant. For the young people who urgently need our help, the toll is incalculable.

Join me at the 2nd Annual Walk for Adoption in MA

May 5, 2011:

I’m delighted to be participating in the Massachusetts Adoption Resource Exchange’s 2nd Annual Walk for Adoption on Sunday, May 22. MARE does a great job for children in Massachusetts (where I live) who need families – and I’d love for lots of people to turn out in support of such an important cause. For more information, go to: http://tinyurl.com/MARE-Walk

Reinventing Adoption

January 24, 2011

Today, I’m offering a commentary stemming from one of the most significant and potentially far-reaching pieces of work the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute has ever produced. A version of this ran recently on The Daily Kos, but the topic is so important that I want to include it here, too, in the hope that it reaches as many people as possible.

How’s this for a complicated rhetorical juggling act? Explain to prospective parents that adopting kids who need truly families is a wonderful thing to do, while simultaneously making it clear that some of them will arrive with challenges that could be demanding and stressful.

That’s what child welfare workers in every state – aided and abetted by national organizations such as the Child Welfare League of America, the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption and AdoptUsKids – do every day for the children and teenagers in foster care. And they’re increasingly successful; indeed, as a result of targeted laws, practices and educational campaigns, the number of these boys and girls adopted annually has soared from about 20,000 just 15 years ago to more than 57,000 in 2009.

The good news here is two-fold: First, the trend line indicates that a growing number of Americans are coming to understand that loving, “real” families don’t have to be formed solely with babies because we want them, but also can include children of all ages because they need us.  Just as heartening, it appears that when we decide it’s important enough, we as a nation can change policies – and minds – to genuinely help the least-powerful members of society.

Now it’s time to do just that once again.

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