Keeping it ‘REAL’ in Adoption and Foster Care
The month of May is an opportunity to raise awareness, provide education and engage in advocacy work surrounding foster care and foster care adoption. This May, National Foster Care Month is focused on strengthening and empowering families. As a community, it is critical that we support this laudable goal. The most current statistics demonstrate that 427,910 children live in foster care with 111,820 children awaiting the permanency of adoption. More than 20,000 children exited foster care without a permanent and stable family arrangement, and 53,549 children were adopted from foster care. It is imperative that we join together as allies in generating solutions that create pathways for children and families to be healthy and strong.
Children and families deserve to thrive. In today’s modern world, the landscape of family is ever-changing and the needs of families are equally as diverse. Today’s family is built in many different ways, including through fostering, adoption, donor origins and assisted reproduction. The new normal in today’s family includes a blend of cultures and ethnicities, single moms and two dads, and countless configurations. As family dynamics continue to evolve, it is critical that solutions which ensure their strengths are created in a way that celebrates this diversity and, more importantly, meets families where they are in distinctive ways. For families that come together through fostering and adoption, solutions need to affirm their reality and celebrate their uniqueness. When we can provide a context of support and validation, we can increase opportunities for children awaiting a permanent family environment and also sustain families who come together through fostering, adoption and other modern family building possibilities. Real solutions for these families require us all to collaborate in a variety of areas to ensure services and supports are accessible and appropriate given unique needs.
Providing the right services and supports requires that we first understand the unique needs of today’s families. According to public opinion research conducted by DAI, more than half of the adoption community and the general public surveyed support increased public funding for pre- and post-adoption services. Adoption community members identified a variety of key areas of support needs including with trauma, loss, identity development, transracial adoption and openness in adoption among other areas. Generating research allows us to influence practice and create services that are informed by the realities of today’s family experience. Research that explores needs as well as studies that generate insight into families who are thriving are all key components in keeping up with the modern-day landscape of today’s family.
We know that stigma, stereotype and misunderstanding have plagued the experience of adoption and foster care for far too long. Often, it is the dramatic fairytale or the cautionary nightmare that headline the news in this area. The reality is the majority of families who come together this way dwell in the many shades of gray rather than the black or white framework that is frequently propagated. Yet, DAI’s research has demonstrated that members of the adoption and foster care community experience a variety of latent stereotypes. Ignorance about the needs and realities of modern families makes it all the more difficult to influence needed changes. Further, it can have a particularly profound effect in discouraging potentially qualified families from exploring fostering and adoption from the child welfare system. This is why it’s more important than ever that we join together as a community and ensure realistic perceptions of adoption, foster care and what it means to be family in today’s world. This includes making sure that allied professionals, such as schools, therapists, and medical providers, are well versed in being able to meet the unique needs of families who live adoption and foster care.
Although there is no “typical” family today, discrimination continues to abound towards diverse families. In particular, there has been a renewed energy surrounding the development of “religious freedom” laws which essentially endorse discrimination under the guise of religious liberty and create inequality for families headed by LGBTQ parents. These laws have a deleterious effect on existing families and also serve to limit opportunities for the more than 100,000 children awaiting adoption from foster care. We must all stand together in opposing any law, policy or regulation that treats families unequally and harms children. In addition to advocacy in this area, families today have other needs that would benefit greatly from changes in policy. Among other areas, this includes ensuring access and availability of quality pre- and post-adoption services and making certain that openness and transparency are the foundation of adoption and foster care practice. This advocacy work must be led by those most closely connected to these experiences and their allies in order to ensure the concept of empowerment is demonstrated in practice. Raising the voices of the community is an essential piece of creating an effective advocacy framework and translating the needs of families into a bill of rights we all must ensure and protect.
Along with the beauty of today’s modern family structure also comes complexity. The intricacies of each family experience are distinct and different needs will result; yet the foundation of any family requires love. This love must come from within the family as well as from the many different systems families interact with throughout their lives. Love is not a miracle antidote for all difficulties that are a part of any family’s experience; yet without love, the practical services, resources and tools that allow families to thrive will not be effective. As a community, we must affirm the beauty of today’s diverse families and celebrate the richness this brings to all of our lives. This will allow children to feel secure in their family environment and for families to develop a unique identity they can feel proud of and supported in building.
Throughout National Foster Care Month and beyond, let’s remember to re-commit ourselves to honoring and supporting the very real families of today. We can best do this by meeting families where they are at and generating solutions that reflect the diversity of the family experience, keep families strong and allow kids to thrive. Strong families build strong communities and this makes a better world for all of us.