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. 

CCAI Statement and Summary Regarding Supreme Court Ruling in Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl

Veronica
Veronica

CCAI Executive Director Kathleen Strottman’s

Statement Regarding Supreme Court Decision in Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl

“Through my work with current and former foster youth, I have learned that having a strong sense of one’s culture, heritage and identity is a vitally important part of child and adolescent development. It is for this reason that CCAI has continued to work to ensure that these components are not only recognized but protected by the United States child welfare system.  The Indian Child Welfare Act is an important piece of federal legislation that, when well implemented, carefully safeguards the best interests of Native American children.

 It has been over 25 years since the Indian Child Welfare Act was enacted into law.  In recent years, the media and tribal community have rightly pointed to the disproportionate number of native youth in care as evidence of its continued need.  At the same time, child welfare advocates have pointed out cases in which application of ICWA is resulting in native children being denied a safe, loving and permanent family through adoption.  I sincerely hope that today’s decision sparks a necessary and open discussion of ways that this critically important law might be used to better protect the best interests of children.”

CCAI Summary Regarding Supreme Court Decision in Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl

The Supreme Court of the United States ruled 5-4 in favor of the adoptive parents of “Baby Veronica” in Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl and reversed the decision of the South Carolina state court that removed the child from the adoptive parents’ home at the age of 27 months and placed her with her biological father, a member of the Cherokee tribe, whom she had never met.

The Supreme Court’s decision held that the provisions of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) that the state court relied upon in its decision do not apply to the facts of this case.  Specifically, the Court found that ICWA “was designed primarily to counteract the unwarranted removal of Indian children from Indian families. But the ICWA’s primary goal is not implicated when an Indian child’s adoption is voluntary and lawfully initiated by a non-Indian parent with sole custodial rights.”

The Court stated that the biological father abandoned the child before birth and never had “continued custody” (legal or physical) of the child so there was no relationship that could be discontinued by terminating the biological Indian father’s rights to the child.

The Court also held that ICWA’s adoption placement preferences for Indian families do not apply in this case, because the biological father and extended family did not seek to adopt the child.

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Supporting Adoption Placements in Hospitals

CCAI Angel in Adoption Rebecca Vahle
CCAI Angel in Adoption Rebecca Vahle receiving her award from Congressman Coffman

CCAI Angel in Adoption, Rebecca Vahle, is an Adoption Liaison at Parker Adventist Hospital where she works on the Family to Family Adoption Support program. We asked Rebecca to write about why she decided to start this initiative and her experience with the program.

The Family to Family Adoption Support program at Parker Adventist Hospital in Parker, CO, just southeast of Denver, is the only established and comprehensive hospital-based adoption support program in the nation.  Over the past eight years, our goal has evolved and expanded.  The program’s core mission is to ensure that mothers who desire to make an adoption plan have access to trained nurses and doctors during this emotional and complex time.

As an adoptive mom, I have welcomed two of our children home as infants. Both hospital situations, while very different, were extremely emotional and unnecessarily chaotic.  It was evident that the staff had a wide range of opinions about adoption, and the hospital policies were unclear.

After our two experiences, I started talking to other adoptive families and birth families.  I found that hospital placements were described by all families involved as wonderful, horrible, humiliating, shame-filled, beautiful, etc.  And sadly, some of those words, such as wonderful and shame-filled, were used to describe hospital placements at the same facility, all dependent on the “nurse you got” or if a staff member had a positive or negative adoption experience.  I also heard from nursing staff that they felt uncomfortable since they didn’t have any formal training as to how to best handle the complexities of an adoption placement.

We started our program in 2005 with mandatory training for our staff, and in time, training for our doctors.  Little did we know that the program would evolve to a service and support model that included education for those both considering adoption and preparing for an adoption, as well as awareness of post-adoption resources.

As the only hospital in Colorado that offers services to all members of this population, our outreach efforts also include adoption education throughout the community.  A clear understanding of adoption has allowed us to help women like Karen*.  Karen was driving through the Denver area on her way to her home state when she went into labor.  Her contractions got too strong for her to continue, and no one back home knew she was pregnant.  She followed the “H” signs on the road and entered Parker Adventist Hospital in the early morning hours.  She told the nurse her plan: to leave once the baby was born and give the baby to the state.  The nurse, trained in adoption, simply mentioned that she could choose to do an adoption plan instead, and that she could choose an agency and meet with a counselor. She was made aware that she could pick a family, even meet them if she’d like, and would still be able to leave that day.  After choosing the family for her child after delivery, she told me, “I had no idea!  I didn’t even know this was an option.”

Twins born at Parker Adventist Hospital and later adopted because of the Family to Family Adoption Support program.
Twins placed for adoption at Parker Adventist Hospital.

Sometimes we get connected with patients considering adoption early in their pregnancy.  We are able to connect them with adoption-sensitive doctors who are aware that they are simply considering adoption and that their care will continue with that doctor regardless if they choose to parent or make an adoption plan.  This is beneficial as they do not have ER deliveries, but are offered consistent prenatal care and ongoing support regardless of their ultimate decision.

Another recent patient didn’t have much warning and also came into the Parker BirthPlace ready to deliver.  She, however, announced when she came in that she was planning to do an adoption.  She had been living in her car and had not been able to meet with a counselor.  She was able to step into a program in the BirthPlace that understood her wishes and had the resources and infrastructure to meet her needs.  She told me, “It was just really important to me that she not go into foster care. I really wanted her to go straight to her family.”  This time in the hospital would hopefully be the beginning of a lifelong relationship with her adoptive family.  We are so honored to share this precious time with our patients and the families involved.

Imagine how the adoption community would be different if there was a Family to Family Adoption Support program in every hospital?  What if nurses and doctors felt empowered to care for their patients in a way that honored their decisions? What if hospital professionals clearly understood their adoption policies and guidelines and had an opportunity to explore their own thoughts about adoption?  What if there was a place for families to go where they could receive care from healthcare professionals who better understood the logistical complexity and emotional impact of an adoption plan?

I was asked recently why a hospital wouldn’t have a program like this one.  I believe there are two reasons:

 Hospitals don’t believe they see “enough” adoptions to fund mandatory training.  I would challenge that with this fact: we were seeing an average of one adoption a month when this program was first launched in 2005.  In 2013, we started off the year by having seven babies placed in seven weeks, serving patients ages 14-42.  The mother of a 14 year-old patient told me, “Without Parker Adventist Hospital, we would be taking this baby home.  Not because she is ready to be a mom, but because we wouldn’t have even known where to start when considering adoption.”  One of our doctors told me, “I now do not hesitate to discuss the option of adoption with my patients.  If they want more information, I know I can send them to the Adoption Liaison.”

Hospitals don’t recognize how much adoption has changed.   In the “old model”, the hospital stay was very different.  A woman delivered a baby, the baby was taken out of the room and given to a social worker, who then delivered the baby to his or her new family.  The mother was told to forget about the baby she just delivered and move on.  The adoptive family was coached to not address the child’s loss of his or her first family.  This approach is contrary to the model we embrace at Parker Adventist Hospital.  With the changes toward open adoption, our program embraces the patient and supports her with compassionate care while acknowledging her loss.  We also recognize that the extended family will naturally be affected by the adoption and may be present. The patient and her family are encouraged to define the woman’s time in the hospital, and if the baby’s father is present also, we do our best to support his unique emotions as well.  Our goal is to support that baby’s parents with not only excellent medical care but also compassionate emotional support.

I truly believe we must challenge our hospitals to do three things: become knowledgeable about adoption issues, require mandatory training regarding current adoption practice, and learn  how professionals can best support patients during their hospital time, empowering them to make the choice that is best for them.   As we see our community utilizing our Family to Family Adoption Support program at Parker Adventist Hospital, we see how having adoption-sensitive care and providing adoption resources can change the community’s approach and understanding of adoption.

For additional information regarding the Family to Family Adoption Support program or to explore upcoming training opportunities, visit www.parkerhospital.org/adoptionsupport  or contact Rebecca Vahle, Adoption Liaison in the Parker BirthPlace, at rebeccavahle@centura.org.

*Name changed

Mothers Making a Difference

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CCAI Executive Director Kathleen Strottman

Tennis legend Arthur Ashe once said, “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” I have always loved this quote and have tried to make the sentiment behind it part of the mission and work of CCAI.  If you look at what we do, hopefully one message is clear: everyone can play a role in ensuring that all children have a family to call their own. In honor of Mother’s Day, I would like to highlight the power and conviction of three amazing adoptive mothers (all I might add Angels in Adoption) who every day use what opportunities they have to make a tremendous difference for children. I am so proud to know them all and so grateful for all that they do.

Aronson

Jane Aronson

Angel in Adoption 2000

Best known as the “Orphan Doctor,” Jane Aronson is the adoptive mother of two boys, Ben and Desalegn. As the Founder of the Worldwide Orphans Foundation (WWO), Jane works to transform the lives of orphaned children. WWO examines the medical and developmental conditions of children who live in orphanages, and identifies immediate healthcare needs and advocates for their well-being through the Orphan Ranger Program.

As an adoption medicine specialist who has evaluated more than 4,000 children, Jane has been in private practice and serves at the Director of International Pediatric Health Services in New York City. As if these roles don’t keep her busy enough, Jane has just published a beautifully touching book, Carried in Our Hearts, which provides first-hand accounts from parents and children whose lives have been touched by adoption. The book’s title is taken directly from the mouth of a five-year-old girl, Bailey, who was adopted from china. “My mommy didn’t carry me in her tummy, she carried me in her heart,” explains Bailey.

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Deborra-Lee Furness Jackman

Angel in Adoption 2013

Recognized by the Film Critics Circle of Australia as a best actress, Deborra-Lee Furness Jackman’s stardom didn’t make adopting from her home country any easier. After encountering insurmountable challenges when trying to adopt a child from Australia, Deb and her husband, Hugh, decided to begin the process in the US.

Despite the fact that her story had a happy ending—Deb and Hugh are now the proud parents of two children, Oscar and Ava—Deb has not stopped advocating for children in Australia who do not have a family to call their own. As the founder of National Adoption Week in Australia, Deb personally calls on individuals to become champions of children without families. She is also the Director of Worldwide Orphans Foundation Australia, a World Vision Ambassador, and the Patron of the Lighthouse Foundation, an organization in Melbourne that works with homeless children.

Deb’s passion for ensuring that every child has their basic human right to a family recognized is best summed up with a quote from a column she authored in the Australian Women’s Weekly:  I can’t think of anything more important than ensuring that every child in this world has at least one person who has their best interests at heart, someone who cares about them so they know they are loved and valued.

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Nia Vardalos

Angel in Adoption 2011

Those who had the pleasure of watching Nia Vardalos star in My Big Fat Greek Wedding will be pleased to know that she is just as charming and hilarious in person as she is on screen. Nia and her husband, Ian, adopted a little girl, Ilaria, from the US foster care system. As the National Adoption Day spokesperson, Nia used her personal story to inspire thousands of other prospective adoptive parents to consider foster adoption as a wonderful way to build a family.

In her new book, Instant Mom, Nia chronicles her journey to parenthood and beyond. Perhaps the most priceless gifts that Nia bestows upon readers are honesty and humor. Nia describes the first couple of months after Ilaria became a member of her family and admits that there were many moments when the scene inside her house wasn’t picture-perfect, like when her daughter would throw her toys in frustration. But she also  describes such touching memories like when, for months, she and Ian took turns sleeping on a cot in her daughter’s bedroom so that she wouldn’t wake up afraid—they literally texted each other when the one on “cot duty” had to go the bathroom in the middle of the night! Ilaria woke up one evening to find her mom sleeping next to her and rubbed her hand against Nia’s cheek. These highs and lows are what all adoptive parents experience when they bring  a child into their family, and Nia reminds us all that this process is normal, unpredictable and, most importantly, transformative.

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On this Mother’s Day, I would like to thank all of the moms out there who started where they were, used what they had and did what they could to ensure that every child has a family to call their own. And a special thank you to my own mother who inspired me to do the same.

CCAI Welcomes Delegation of Guatemalan Officials

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CCAI Executive Director, Kathleen Strottman, on a delegation to Guatemala.

Three months after I became CCAI’s Executive Director I received a call from a frantic mother whose son’s orphanage, Casa Quivera, had been raided by the Guatemalan authorities the night before.   The raid, she was told, was a part of the Guatemalan government’s effort to investigate the orphanage director whom they believed engaged in corrupt practices. Over the next year, I met hundreds of other parents whose adoptions had become immersed in a sea of similar investigations while their children languished in orphanages.

It was under this lens that our focus on the child welfare system in Guatemala began. We would soon learn that the passage of the 2007 Adoption law, although a necessary step, has presented two very real challenges for the Guatemalan government.  First, it left hundreds of children whose international adoptions were not complete in legal limbo.  Without a clear path forward, these cases underwent investigation after investigation. Six years later, approximately one hundred of these adoptions remain incomplete today.  Secondly, it required that the Guatemalan government invest time, money and resources in developing domestic alternatives for children in need of family care.

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Our first step was to raise awareness among Members of Congress about these challenges and to enlist their support in advocating for change. We are proud to have partnered with the Joint Council for International Children’s Services (JCICS), the National Council for Adoption (NCFA) and Guatemala 900 to host several briefings on the status of pending cases.  Once we had the support we needed from the US Department of State, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and nearly 100 Members of Congress, we began to bring this support to bear in Guatemala.

Over the past two years, CCAI has been part of five high-level delegations to Guatemala.  Through these visits we have not only had the chance to advocate for the rights of the children unnecessarily trapped in orphanages, but we have also had the chance to learn more about the Guatemalan government’s efforts to build a Hague-compliant system of child welfare. There is undoubtedly a lot that still needs to be done in this regard.  Yet at the same time, the Guatemalans have been aggressive in their efforts to put in place a new system, one that is less reliant on institutional care.

Late last night, CCAI welcomed 14 delegates from Guatemala’s courts, governmental agencies and universities to Washington, DC. We have invited these individuals to participate in our Pathways to Permanency project because of their direct involvement in the welfare of children in Guatemala.  Our hope is that this exchange will inspire these individuals to become agents of change in their own communities.  The week ahead will be filled with presentations by US experts in child welfare; conversations among judicial colleagues; meetings with Members of Congress and the Administration and lessons in best practice from other regional models.

I have many hopes for the week ahead, but chief among them is this: that everyone who participates in this week comes away with a deep desire to see every child in Guatemala have a safe, loving and permanent family to call their own.  I hope that they will see that achieving this goal requires the use of all options for permanency.  And most importantly, I hope that like those of us at CCAI, they will be willing to work to remove every barrier that stands in the way of this hope becoming reality.

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