National Adoption Month is celebrated in November. As co-founder and co-chair of the bipartisan Senate Caucus on Foster Youth, I am a leading voice in Congress to promote adoptions and build bright futures for children in foster care.
I wanted to address a couple questions about adoption.
What is the Congressional Coalition on Adoption?
With thirty-five years of advocacy, the Congressional Coalition on Adoption is the largest bicameral, bipartisan caucus in Congress. More than 175 lawmakers work on a shared mission to raise awareness, shape policy and write legislation to support permanent, loving homes for children awaiting adoption.
From this platform and my chairmanship of the Senate Finance Committee, I have steered landmark child welfare reforms and tax incentives through the legislative process to promote adoptions and build support systems in local communities to help youth who have experienced trauma, neglect, or abuse. Specifically, I have focused my efforts on helping foster youth who age out of care and transition to adulthood on their own, as well as measures to promote family reunification, adoption, and stability for kids in foster care. For example, not shuffling kids in foster care from one school district to another in the middle of a school year makes a meaningful difference to promote social development, develop friendships, and avoid academic delays.
Through close collaboration with court advocates, social workers, faith leaders, foster and adoptive families, educators, and caregivers, the driving principle behind my legislative efforts comes straight from the kids. Without exception, I hear the same request no matter the age of the child: “I want a mom and dad.”
Last year, more than 153,258 children were placed in foster care due to neglect, and 86,694 children were removed from their homes due to drug abuse. The nation’s opioid crisis strained child and family services as growing numbers of children were placed in the foster care system.
To help support families in crisis, I helped lead the passage of the Family First Prevention Services Act to get resources to kids at risk of entering foster care, as well as their parents. The law provides additional funding for parenting classes, substance abuse treatment, and mental health services to help keep families together. It also provided help for greater numbers of grandparents and extended family members, who are becoming full-time caregivers when parents are struggling with addiction.
As co-chairman of the Senate Caucus on Foster Youth, I’ve also led briefings on Capitol Hill to examine many topics related to the child welfare system. Listening to youth who have experienced trauma and understanding obstacles facing families who are separated due to abuse, neglect and addiction are important to inform lawmakers who shape public policy to help ensure every child in America grows up in a safe, nurturing, and permanent home so all kids can pursue their dreams and reach their full potential.
How has the pandemic impacted adoptions in the United States?
The pandemic has uprooted every facet of American society, disrupting the economy, bottlenecking food and consumer supply chains and changing the way we go about daily life, from getting haircuts to visiting the doctor, going to work and attending school. It’s also created more uncertainty in an already precarious environment for foster care youth and families; children awaiting permanency; and, adoptive families. The pandemic has impacted licensing and interviewing processes, and delayed permanency hearings.
This shift presented barriers in the adoption process for homes with limited access to internet or cellular service. COVID-19 has exacerbated worrisome situations for vulnerable kids. School closures have isolated many children who may face an abusive or neglectful home life. Travel restrictions also disrupted international adoptions.
The pandemic put so many life events on pause. And yet, it doesn’t change the profound need for permanency in a vulnerable child’s life for a safe, loving family. The CARES Act passed by Congress included flexibility for state child welfare agencies to maximize federal dollars where they were most needed in their communities, such as services for foster youth transitioning to independence, kinship caregivers and foster families. However, additional relief is needed.
During this season of thanksgiving, families across America will count their blessings. The Thanksgiving feast may be celebrated differently this year, but it’s as important as ever to be grateful and support the sacred institution of the family, especially during this unprecedented year of uncertainty. During National Adoption Month, let’s celebrate and gives thanks for adoptive families. Adoption brings hope to children and parents who want their own forever family to love and with whom to count their blessings around the dinner table each and every day for years to come.