A Shift in Americans’ Attitudes about Foster Care Adoption

At CCAI, we believe that one child without a family is one child too many.  Right this very minute, more than 100,000 children in the United States’ foster care system are waiting to be adopted.  Last year, nearly 30,000 foster youth turned 18 and emancipated from care without the families they need and deserve.

In an ideal world, the general population would be well informed before developing opinions about important issues such as child welfare. The reality is, however, that most people gather their information from hearsay or biased media outlets. Television shows like NBC’s The Office or Fox’s The O.C. portray foster youth in a wide spectrum of abnormalities, ranging from slightly weird to unstable to dangerous or unmanageable. As a result, many potential candidates for foster parenting opt for other adoption options because they believe that fostering a child would be too difficult. Tragically, their mistaken views add to the growing number of children left without families.

The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption partnered with Harris Interactive to conduct the 2013 National Foster Care Adoption Attitudes Survey to more than 1,400 American adults to gain a broader understanding of their attitudes concerning adoption. With this survey, a follow-up to a similar survey taken in 2007, the Foundation hoped to “better understand Americans’ attitudes about foster care adoption, their belief about the children waiting to be adopted and their perceptions of the foster care system.” Just recently, they released the findings of the survey to the general public, which can be viewed here.

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Among the survey’s main findings:

  • While 51 percent of those surveyed agreed with the statement that all children are adoptable, only 27 percent of those surveyed would consider adopting a child 12 and older.
  • Many American adults still believe that “the foster care adoption process is overwhelming and expensive.”
  • 43 percent of adults said, based on what they had heard or seen, that it was either very difficult or extremely difficult to adopt a child from foster care.

This survey comes six years after DTFA’s initial survey.  The most notable change in attitudes between then and now is that a greater number of Americans understand that children who are in foster care are the victims of abuse and neglect, not dangerous delinquents.  In 2007, 59 percent of respondents thought children adopted from foster care were more likely to have problems with behavior and self-control. In 2012, the number fell 13 points to 46 percent.

So what does all this mean for policymakers?  Below are just a few current policy areas which might help to address the issues identified by the survey.

  • Adoption Tax Credit:  While the process of foster adoption is actually very inexpensive, there are costs which come with raising a child who is adopted from foster care.   According to the 2007 National Survey of Adoptive Parents, only one quarter of individuals who adopt children from foster care have incomes greater than $87,000. Without the support of a refundable credit, the majority of adoptive families might not be able to afford such costs and worse, the fear of not being able to meet them, might deny a child a family. As Congress continues to consider tax reform, it is essential that they understand the importance of continuing to provide a refundable adoption tax credit for families. 
  • Post-Adoption Services: Adopting from foster care can be one of the most rewarding experiences of a lifetime.  But those who have done it will tell you that raising a child who has experienced early trauma is not without its trials.  For adoption from foster care to be the lifelong commitment it is meant to be, it is important that families have access to post-adoption services.  Despite their critical importance, there is little to no dedicated federal funding for post-adoption services.
  • Adoption Incentives:  As the survey indicates, the hardest to place children are often children older than 12.  States who are using traditional child-recruitment strategies are not likely to be successful in finding these children homes.  Although the current adoption incentive program doubles the incentive for placing older youth, a child over nine is half as likely to find a home through adoption.  Federal policymakers need to consider how to incentivize the use of child-focused recruitment models, such as Wendy’s Wonderful Kids, to provide a loving home for every child in need.

For the purpose of this post, CCAI only used a portion of the information resulting from the survey. The complete 2013 National Foster Care Adoption Attitudes Survey can be found here.

CCAI Guest Blog Post: How DOMA Impacts Adoption

Athena Madison
Athena Madison

By Athena Madison

All I have ever wanted was to be adopted.

I have been in and out of the foster care system since I was eight years old. My mother passed away when I was seven and my father sulked in depression so much that he forgot he had kids and we became collateral damage. I became a mother to my siblings at a very young age.  My whole life, I have been an adult. I never had a childhood nor was I ever given the chance to be a teenager; I was too busy fighting off the sexual advances of my father’s drunk friends.

I never had parents although I have always wanted some. I still want a family, but at the age of nineteen, no one will adopt me. Every adult that I have met has said, “I’d adopt you in a heartbeat” but no one has ever followed through. That was always the worst feeling –to give me a bright red balloon and then in that same second pop it.

When I was fourteen, my mentor seriously considered adopting me. I cried tears of joy thinking about that possibility, a home, warm meals and a bed –the kind of safety that said I was going to be okay. She researched the possibility and what it would entail. Unfortunately what she learned was she shouldn’t bother trying; she wouldn’t be allowed to adopt me because of her sexual orientation.

I felt the pain and she felt the pain. The tears, anger and frustration held me hostage when I realized I was being denied a happy home with the only person I had ever trusted. I was being denied of a better life, because of logic that was simply discriminatory. The injustice overwhelmed me. I mourned. I have since mourned the life I could have had.

This summer, I am one of 16 individuals participating in CCAI’s Foster Youth Internship (FYI) program. As part of the program, we are asked to develop a Congressional report and propose a specific policy recommendation that would improve the child welfare system. I plan to present policy recommendations that remove barriers to individuals who are gay or lesbian adopting nationwide. No child should mourn a life they could have had.

This past Wednesday, the Supreme Court made a monumental step in the right direction when they struck down the Defense of Marriage Act.  In doing so, they recognized a simple fact:  that the law is meant to protect all people equally.  I think that people who are gay and lesbian should have equal rights both as spouses and as parents.

There are thousands of gay and lesbian parents who provide safe and loving homes. Words will never truly explain how much I would have picked two loving mothers or two loving fathers over being homeless and without anyone to claim me as their own. I believe that there is not a child in this country that would say “Oh! Can I have that parent there? Yes, the straight one to your right.” No child would turn down the opportunity to have a family to call their own. It’s about time we had some change.

Athena is one of 16 Foster Youth Interns who will be presenting her policy recommendations at a Congressional briefing on Tuesday, July 30.