New attitudes toward adoption

  • ADVANCE FOR USE SUNDAY, JUNE 18, 2017 AND THEREAFTER-This June 26, 2016 photo provided by the family shows Kevin Neubert, background center, and Jim Gorey with their adopted children, from left, Luke, Derek, Natalie, Zach, and Jacob at the Chicago Pride Parade. Following night classes to qualify as foster parents, Neubert and Gorey agreed in December 2011 to provide a temporary home for a newborn baby. A stay intended to last only for a few days was extended into several months, and Neubert and Gorey learned that the baby had four older siblings who were also in foster care. They eventually decided to adopt all five. (Nicole Gifford Baugh/Jim Gorey via AP)

Washington Post
Friday, July 28, 2017

More than 110,000 children in the U.S. foster care system are legally free for adoption, yet more than 20,000 of these kids will never find an adoptive family.

After a childhood of hardship, youth exiting the system without family support face a high risk of unemployment, homelessness, incarceration and other negative life outcomes. But the 2017 US Adoption Attitudes Survey offers a glimmer of new hope.

According to the survey, nearly 80 percent of individuals looking to adopt for the first time would consider adopting a child in foster care, a 7 percent increase since 2012. Rita Soronen, the chief executive of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, the organization that commissioned the study, considers this a substantial shift in public attitudes.

“Foster care adoption hasn’t always been an easy or pleasant conversation,” she said. “All of us in the child welfare stratosphere have worked hard to educate the public to change misperceptions about foster care adoption and heighten awareness.”

Choosing to adopt through the foster care system means accepting that the process, and sometimes the outcome, can be uncertain. Bureaucratic procedures vary from state to state and even county to county, but the practice of concurrent planning, which places children with potential adoptive families before the termination of parental rights, is standard. This approach, designed to reduce the amount of time children spend in the system, investigates options for permanent reunification with the birth family while foster parents care for the child and stand ready to adopt that child if parental rights are severed. But even for prospective parents who come with eyes wide open, the experience can be emotionally fraught.

“I did a lot of research, so I don’t think there was anything that I wasn’t expecting,” said Kristen Howerton of Orange County, Calif., who blogs about her life as a mother at Rage Against the Minivan. Her son Jafta, now 12, is the oldest of her four children and arrived as a foster placement at the age of 6 months. “For three years, we lived with a very big unknown. We were falling in love with this little boy but never sure if he was our permanent son or just a temporary placement. It was hard to be so invested and yet not be able to control any outcomes.”

Denise Henderson, a retired psychologist in Rochester, N.Y., tells a similar story about trying to adopt a younger sibling for her biological son as a single mom. “My daughter came to live with us as a newborn. It took three long years before the courts freed her for adoption. The weight that lifted off me in that moment was incredible. I didn’t realize what a burden I’d been carrying until I no longer had to bear it. Now my daughter is a lovely 13-year-old ... of whom I couldn’t be prouder.”

For author Jillian Lauren and her husband, Scott Shriner, bassist for the band Weezer, the adoption of a 3-year-old boy named Jovi from Los Angeles County proved a bit smoother. Jovi had already spent a year and a half in foster care by the time the couple met him, with bureaucratic decision-making regarding his future well underway. The couple also has a son, Tariku, adopted from Ethiopia, an experience that Lauren chronicled in her memoir, Everything You Ever Wanted, but the tremendous need for foster-adoptive families shaped their choice for their second adoption.

“We made a very conscious decision to adopt from foster care,” Lauren said. “We were terrified. We also felt a sense of purpose around it as well that served as an anchor when we were facing uncertainty.”

Soronen explains that when society takes the dramatic step of legally terminating parental rights, there’s an implicit promise of a new family made to that child, a promise that too often is broken. Plenty of prospective parents are open to infants and toddlers, but the average child in foster care is 8 or 9 years old. Sibling groups and kids with special needs may also languish. As North America’s largest charity devoted to finding homes for children in foster care, the Dave Thomas Foundation has chosen to focus its efforts on these children who might have previously been considered unadoptable.

The Wendy’s Wonderful Kids program, named after the restaurant chain founded by Thomas, who was himself an adoptee, seeks families for foster children who are legally free for adoption. The program, which was founded in 2004, has served 16,000 foster children so far. There have been 6,494 adoptions finalized with 4,300 kids currently looking for permanent homes.