Working for every child to have a safe and loving family.
The Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to raising awareness about the millions of children around the world in need of permanent, safe, and loving homes and to eliminating the barriers that hinder these children from realizing their basic right of a family.
It’s a New Year and a new Congress, which means there are new opportunities for Members to champion child welfare and adoption issues! That’s why CCAI is hosting a bipartisan New Congress Forum on Child Welfare and Adoptionon Capitol Hill on February 15th. Due to space limitations, this event is limited to Members only. ALL Members of the 115th Congress are invited to discuss their child welfare and adoption interests and priorities – both domestic and international.
In anticipation of National Adoption Day, CCAI interviewed Latena Hazard, a 2016 CCAI Fall Policy Intern, about her experiences in foster care and as an adoptee. Latena is from Worcester, Massachusetts, is a second-year law school student at Catholic University and believes every child deserves to be heard. We agree and hope you enjoy reading about her reflections on adoption from foster care.
CCAI: How did being placed into foster care make you feel?
Latena: I didn’t understand the concept of foster care until I was roughly 7 years-old. Being in the foster care system gave me a sense of loneliness and that I didn’t belong. As children moved in and out of the house, you never knew if you were next. There were times when we were threatened with removal and school transfers. Foster care turned me into a people pleaser, afraid to do any wrong and always wanting and craving the acceptance of others. I always had questions that couldn’t be answered; mainly, why was I placed in foster care? Looking for and not receiving answers made me question my self-worth.
CCAI: What were the difficulties you experienced in foster care?
Latena: I think the most difficult thing about being in the foster care system was keeping and maintaining fulfilling friendships. I battle with attachment issues, and it became difficult trusting people enough to establish a connection. My foster home always had children coming and going, and I just always thought, “why build a connection when they’ll end up leaving anyways?”
CCAI: Tell us about your adoption story.
Latena: My sister Latoya and I were placed into foster care at the age of two and adopted together at the age of six. We were adopted by an amazing couple, Joseph and Phyllis Hazard. My parents were in their late 50’s when they adopted us. About that same time, they adopted Kristina Rose, and she became our little sister. Three years later our father passed away and although my heart was broken, I was grateful to be in my mother’s care. Because of these unfortunate circumstances, it left my mom with little help, and, eventually, Latoya and Kristina were taken out of the home. Latoya was placed in a foster home with terrible living conditions and Kristina went into a group home. While Kristina was placed back into the foster care system, I am forever grateful that my sister Latoya and I were reunited with my adoptive mom shortly after, and Kristina came back home a couple years later.
CCAI: Why is family important to you?
Latena: Family is the foundation of society in my opinion. They say you can’t choose your family, but in adoption, you’re someone’s choice. Having a family provides you with a better understanding of self, builds your self-confidence, secures your values and helps with communication skills. My family is everything to me; without them I would not be the person I am today. They are always there to guide me and give encouragement, to cheer me up when I’m down and to let me know that things will get better. They are my rock, and the reason I continue to do my best. I tell my mom every day that she’s the biggest blessing that could have ever happened to me.
CCAI: What are some of your proudest accomplishments?
Latena: I wouldn’t be where I am had it not been for my mom adopting me. I have accomplished a lot over the last few years. My biggest accomplishment is being a member of the United States Navy on board the U.S.S. Essex and my current service in the U.S. Navy Reserves. I have traveled the world to protect and defend against foreign and domestic threats.
In addition, I battled the stereotype associated with foster care and education. High school was difficult, and I barely graduated. Achieving academic success wasn’t on my radar. However, in 2012, I graduated Magna Cum Laude from Howard University, then went on to receive my Masters in Journalism from The Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Now, I plan to obtain my law degree from The Catholic University Columbus School of Law in 2018. Once I graduate from law school, I hope to practice family law and work on cases that will allow foster care children to have a voice. The desire to persevere and achieve was instilled in me during my time in foster care, and although it’s been a difficult journey I am proud of where I am today.
CCAI: Why is celebrating National Adoption Day significant?
Latena: National Adoption Day addresses a problem that needs to be dealt with in U.S. foster care. Adoption provides children with a loving, secure, structured environment to excel and be happy. There is so much that one person can do to bring joy into the life of a child.
Investing in Older Youth in Foster Care: Reflections of an adoptive mother of 14 and a foster mother of over 70
by Gail Neher
My husband John and I live in northern Maine. We are the parents of one biological son and 14 adoptees. When our son Jared went off to college, the house was quiet and lonely. In 1988, while sitting in our bedroom one night in New Mexico watching the evening news, a 12-year-old girl in residential care was featured on Wednesday’s Child. She just wanted a place to go for Christmas. It was as though lightening struck our house. There is no logical explanation, but this appeal set us on a completely unexpected and uncharted journey. Unfortunately, this particular girl did not become part of our family, but she continues to be a guiding spirit in all we do for children. Still, by the end of the year-long process in New Mexico, we were the parents of a sibling group of three – Melanie (4), Joseph (8) and David (12).
From that point on, we were hooked.
A year or so later, we received a call about two little girls needing a short-term foster home. We had not wanted to foster because I knew I would struggle saying goodbye. But they needed us and we answered the call by becoming licensed therapeutic foster parents. And our hearts were broken as they returned to a terribly abusive home. There was nothing we could do for them, but from this experience we formed our master strategy for fostering.
John and I decided to provide a safe and loving environment for girls whose legal ties with their biological families were severed and who had run the gamut of available foster homes and services. Many were facing legal difficulties or already involved with the justice system. One 14-year-old was living in a shelter because she was “too difficult” for a foster family. These are truly the children with broken spirits and wounded hearts.
Over the last 28 years, we have opened our doors to more than 70 teenage girls. We believe they deserve to experience a safe and nurturing environment, to learn how to live in a healthy and active family, and to re frame their histories as they move forward into adulthood. Each child has a different story, yet the theme remains the same. Some are able to rise above their pasts; some will always struggle. Since 2002, 11 of these young women (including two sets of siblings) have requested to join our family permanently. Others have returned to their biological families, moved on to other foster homes, gone into residential treatment or gained independence from the system. We remain in contact with many, thanks to social media, and they know we remain committed to their welfare.
The need for families for these young people continues to escalate. Teenagers are not for everyone. This is a time in their lives when they are yearning and learning to be independent. They often play this out in very challenging behaviors. Putting teens into foster homes creates a struggle younger children don’t face, because they have been programmed to be letting go just as we try to “reel” them in. Healthy relationships can be so foreign for this age group, and families often feel they are only providing “three hots and a cot.” Expectations have to be adjusted with each young woman.
I often tell the girls my job is to teach them how to lunch and to shop. This sounds simple, but in reality it is about nurturing each individual while teaching her how to cooperate within the group. Our philosophy is to provide an opportunity for a young person to heal from their history, to accept that history as a building block and to move forward with support. Whenever possible, we partner with the young woman’s birth family as a sign of solidarity.
During National Adoption Month, I call special attention to our older youth in foster care who so desperately need permanency. We are pleased the federal government is spotlighting this unique and important subset of our foster care population this month. The transition into adulthood is difficult for all young people. For those with a history of broken relationships and trauma, this may not occur until they are in their 30s or even later. They need someone to walk ahead as a guide; to walk behind to encourage; but mostly to walk beside as they find their way. They are our hope for the future and we need to be their hope for the present.
Gail and John are recipients of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute’s 2016 Angels in Adoption award and attended three days of special events associated with the Angels in Adoption Program in Washington, D.C. in September of this year.
CCAI’s Angels in Adoption® Program consists of three days of events in Washington, D.C. where those who have made an extraordinary contribution in the lives of children through adoption or foster care are celebrated by Members of Congress.
Take a look at some of the highlights from the 2016 Angels in Adoption® Program!
We hope you enjoyed this photographic summary of CCAI’s 2016 Angels in Adoption® Program. We hope you’ll share this blog with others. Please be sure to follow CCAI on Facebook,Twitter, and Instagram and use the hashtag #adoptionangels!
CCAI’s 20/20 Vision Program is a public-private partnership delegation model designed to educate Members of Congress, build relationships, increase positive dialogue and improve adoption and child welfare policy and practice around the globe.
CCAI’s most recent 20/20 Vision delegation was a follow up to our 20/20 Vision Program delegation to Haiti in August of 2014. Our goal was to gather on-the-ground knowledge about the needs of children in Haiti who are living outside of the care of families, as well as the solutions offered through programs, systems, law and policy that support placement and care of these children in families. The delegation plans to brainstorm ways to strengthen U.S. foreign policy for vulnerable children and families upon returning to the United States. Take a look at some of the highlights!
To learn more or engage with CCAI in our international child welfare advocacy, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org and sign up for our listserv.
Photo Credit: Keziah Jean Photography, Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
I traveled to Port-au-Prince, Haiti with the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI) for its 20/20 Vision program – a public-private partnership which exists to increase positive dialogue and the exchange of information among private sector individuals, international and domestic government officials, and Members of Congress. I currently serve on the CCAI Advisory Council and participated in its Foster Youth Internship (FYI) Program in 2003. From its early beginning in 2001, CCAI has been a leader in raising awareness and bringing together like-minded partners to ensure that every child in the world knows the love and support of a family. And that is exactly what its 20/20 Vision Program accomplished in Haiti this summer.
While this was the first time I ever visited Haiti, for many years I had felt a kinship to the island-nation through the literature of one of my favorite authors, Edwidge Danticat. I began reading Danticat as a high school student when I met her at a book signing for her short story collection – Krik Krak. Through her award-winning works like Breath, Eyes and Memory, The Farming of Bones, and The Dew Breaker, Danticat transported me to the countryside and urban spaces of Haiti where I could almost smell and taste the griyo & pikliz, see the stunning mountainous terrain and feel the cooling Caribbean waters on a hot day. Danticat unflinchingly writes about Haiti’s complicated revolutionary history and often gives a voice to those Haitians for whom silence is no longer a feasible option. Danticat described her home as best she could, trying to prepare me for all the beauty I would see, but as masterful of a storyteller as she is, I was quite simply unprepared for a country that is beautiful beyond belief – although it isn’t supposed to be.
After the 2010 earthquake and years of social and political unrest, Haiti remains a resilient nation, fixated on a brighter future. I saw the best example of this in the country’s child welfare system reform. Through strong public-private partnerships, Haiti is showing its commitment to a prosperous future by protecting and ensuring the development of its most valuable resource – its children. I saw this in the work of the dedicated staff of IBESR – Haiti’s Institute of Social Welfare and Research, which among other reforms, is leading the way to ensure that fraud is eradicated from its international adoption program to make sure that only children legally eligible to be adopted are authorized for adoption and strengthen their capacity in the full continuum of care for children.
I witnessed how devoted the Haitian National Police’s Brigade for the Protection of Minors are to devising and implementing systems to stamp out child abuse, neglect and trafficking, in partnership with organizations like the Restavek Freedom Foundation.
And while government agencies like these are working to lead the way in child welfare reform in Haiti, they are not alone, as I saw many private organizations that were not just treating the symptoms of a damaged child welfare system, but are aggressively seeking to identify the root causes and cure the problem. As we visited organizations like Papillon Enterprises and Peacycle, I learned that extreme poverty is what often tears families apart and places children in orphanages, because there is simply not enough money to care for the children. So private organizations have stepped to the forefront to provide job training and creation, in order for parents to have a sustainable income so that families can stay together or be reunified. Words cannot explain how heartwarming it was to hear from families that were once split up due to a lack of money, now back together because the parents accessed assistance and a stable income. The best place for children to thrive is in their families, and that is why its laudable that efforts are now beginning to remove barriers that keep children from their families in Haiti.
In circumstances where there is not a viable option to keep or return children to their families, Haitians are also now beginning to implement a foster care model. While our U.S. foster care system is not without its shortcomings, the science is clear that children cognitively develop faster and are without less severe health issues in family settings than children in congregate care – e.g., orphanages and group homes. While foster care in Haiti is still in its infancy, it is programs like CCAI’s 20/20 Vision Program and this congressional delegation to Haiti that are so critical, because through information sharing, technical assistance from experts in the field, and strategic partnerships, Haiti has the opportunity to create and implement an excellent child welfare system.
Jelani Freeman serves on CCAI’s Advisory Council, is a dedicated alumni of CCAI’s Foster Youth Internship Program®, and Serves on the Board of the Barker Adoption Foundation.