Tonight, approximately 115,000 children in our nation’s foster care system will go to sleep still waiting for an adoptive family. These children have been removed from home because of abuse or neglect. Their parents’ rights have been terminated, which in child welfare-speak means the children are available to be adopted. And yet, they still wait.
Child Trends’ recent analysis found that the number of adoptions from foster care has generally increased since 1997 from 37,000 to 57,000 in 2009. Recent coverage has heralded this accomplishment, facilitated by critically important legislative reforms including the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 and the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008. Although the news is encouraging, the number of children waiting to be adopted has far exceeded the number of finalized adoptions each year.
These children spend nearly three years on average waiting to be adopted. That’s three birthdays, and a dozen major holidays spent in a temporary and often uncertain state, not knowing when or if anyone will ever “choose” them for their family. And, unfortunately, many children never get that chance. Approximately 29,000 will leave the system at about 18 years of age without a safe family they can count on to help them navigate early adulthood and beyond.
Not every child in foster care is eligible to be adopted, and many will return to their families to be safely reunited or will live with relatives as their guardians. However, for those children for whom reunification or guardianship are not possible, adoption is a critically important path out of foster care to a safe, permanent family.
As we mark the end of National Foster Care Month, it is worth celebrating the accomplishments of thousands of advocates, families, case workers and policy makers throughout the nation in decreasing the foster care rolls and increasing adoptions from foster care. But we must not forget that while progress has been made, there are thousands and thousands of children who are still waiting.
Marci McCoy-Roth, Senior Director of Public Policy and Communications