World Social Work Day – Story of one incredible social worker

CCAI would like to take a moment to honor the tens of thousands of social workers who dedicate their lives to protecting our world’s most vulnerable children. We also will continue to fight for the policies and programs social workers rely on to ensure that each and every child has a safe, loving and permanent family. 

In honor of this special day, we are pleased to share the story of one such hero, Scott Lee, and the immeasurable difference he made in the life of his daughter Mary, a CCAI Foster Youth Intern alumna.

Children have many superheroes such as batman, he-man, superwoman, spiderman and even their parents. But what about the 400,000 children in foster care? Who are their superheroes? We know that many of these children experience multiple placements, separation from siblings, changes in schools and trauma. As a former foster youth, I can say that my superhero was my case manager, Scott Lee. He was the one person who I felt like I could trust, that went out of his way to make sure I was doing well and encouraged me to pursue my educational goals. As a case manager he had lots of children on his caseload, but he always took the time to check in on me. In fact, he would pick me up from school and drive me home just so he could ask about my foster home and how school was going. There were times he gave up his weekends with his family to transport me to various events. When I decided that I wanted to be adopted, he supported my decision and encouraged me not to give up on finding a forever family even though I was a teenager.

To my surprise, Scott and his family became my forever family when they adopted me one week before my 18th birthday. As my case manager, he knew everything about me including the complaints from my foster parents. But he and his wife opened their hearts and home to me anyway.  For the first time in my life I felt like I belonged and that I was loved.  I feel so very blessed to have found permanency with such a wonderful and caring family. I know that this is not the norm for many children in foster care, but we’re making progress with finding life-long connections for our young people. In the meantime, case managers can help ensure that children have a positive experience during their stay in care.

Mary Lee

Even today my dad is still my superhero. He is always there when I need him, and he continues to support me and my goals. I am in awe of the work he has done as a father and case manager. I hope the work I do has as much impact as his has and that I too can be a superhero for the children and families I work with.

My dad is not only a superhero to me, but also to his church, community, friends and co-workers. His super powers include compassion, selflessness, dedication, and sharing joy with others. Like many case managers he has a desire and calling to help foster children, and will go out of his way to make sure they get the care and attention they desire and deserve. To all social workers out there – I applaud you. I know it can be a tiresome and thankless job, but I can assure you that you are making a difference.

As a call to action, I ask legislators, child advocates, child welfare leadership and the public to continue the discussions around how we can best support case managers whether it is through increased training and supervision, smaller caseloads, and/or competitive salaries so they too can be superheroes, like my dad, for the vulnerable children they serve.

Mary R. Lee works as a National Transitional Living Coordinator at Youth Villages in Memphis, Tennessee. She is also a Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute Foster Youth Intern Alumna.

CCAI Report – What Barriers Remain: Areas of Needed Adoption and Foster Care Reform in the 113th Congress


What Barriers Remain:
Areas of  Needed Adoption and Foster Care Reform in the 113th Congress

This coming Saturday, November 23rd, we will celebrate National Adoption Day and approximately 4,500 adoptions of children in foster care that will take place in courthouses across the nation. It is a day of celebration as well as a poignant reminder of the nearly 100,000 children in foster care still awaiting their own adoption day.

The Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute exists because we not only believe that every child needs a family, but also that they can find that family – no matter what their age or circumstances. Toward that goal, we continue to raise awareness of the policy barriers that prevent children in the U.S. and around the word from finding their forever families. We will work daily with policymakers to address these barriers until every last one is removed.

We are pleased to announce the release of our report, What Barriers Remain: Areas of Needed Adoption and Foster Care Reform in the 113th Congress This report highlights several areas where the U.S. Congress might work to reduce the number of children living without families in the U.S. and abroad.   It is our hope that all who read this new report, from Members of Congress to adoptive parents, Members of the Administration to foster youth, will work in partnership with us until every child in need of a family finds permanency.

What Barriers Remain


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.


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. 

Investing in the Future of our Children

Image Courtesy of The Next Generation

Yesterday, the Washington Post, The Next Generation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation hosted the “Children and Families Summit 2013,” a convening of parents, policymakers, and experts unified in their belief that our nation not only can, but must, do better at investing – personally, privately and publicly – in the future of our children. The day’s agenda focused on a relatively simple and yet profound question: How can we as a nation strengthen support systems for those young people and parents who desperately need them?

As this important conversation continues,  we must remember that hidden within the millions of children who live in poverty, lack access to a high quality education, or suffer unnecessarily from chronic health conditions are our nation’s  half a million foster children. In taking these children into our governments’ care, do we not also make an implied promise to provide them the attention and support they need to become successful, stable adults?  Most would say the answer to this question is unabashedly yes, and yet what research shows is that foster children are chief among those falling through the gaps in our current system.

Here are just a few sobering facts: according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, compared with children from the same socioeconomic background, children in care have much higher rates of serious emotional and behavioral problems, chronic physical disabilities, birth defects, and developmental delays. Educational attainment studies reveal that less than 50% of youth in care graduate from high school and only 3% go on to get a college degree. As if those statistics are not compelling enough, studies also show that as many as one in four foster youth will end up homeless, in jail or die within a year of leaving care.

There are many reasons why children in foster care are not achieving their potential; I would like to focus on just two. First, as Paul Tough explains in great detail in his new book, How Children Succeed, “what matters most in a child’s development… is not how much information we can stuff into [a child’s] brain in the first few years. What matters instead is whether we are able to help [them] develop a very different set of qualities; a list that includes persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit and self-confidence.”  According to Tough, it is these skills, and not the accumulation of book knowledge, that are what allows students to maintain focus during a difficult exam or get noticed for having a “good work ethic” in the workplace.

And who is it whom most often helps cultivate such skills in children? Good parents.  In fact, one of the most compelling parts of yesterday’s events for me came during the remarks of sixteen year old Alfa Lopez who introduced the Secretary of Education to the audience. Lopez said what an “only in America” moment it was for her—a  Los Angeles teen who hails from a low income neighborhood with a school dropout rate over 50%—to be in Washington, D.C. and introducing such an important government official. She opened with “Thanks to my parents, who sacrificed everything to give me what they never had.”

Not only do foster children not have the benefit of being raised by the type of parents who lead to success stories like Alfa, we are also failing to provide too many youth that type of parenting while in care.   We currently have one foster family for every four children who need care and a high number of those who are fostering are doing so for all the wrong reasons.  Foster children move from home to home almost as often as the seasons change and the vast majority of teens in foster care are growing up in group homes, many of which resemble prisons, not families.  One way to bring about change for children  would be to invest in systems that allow children to go from broken homes into supportive settings with caring adults who are willing and able to build the skills celebrated by Tough.

The second reason foster youth continue to struggle is that major federal programs designed to meet the needs of disadvantaged children in general too often miss the mark in meeting the needs of children in care.  Here are just some examples: one third of all children in foster care are under five years old when removed because of abuse and neglect.  Because they are in care they are categorically eligible for Head Start Services, and yet according to the National Study on Child and Adolescent Well Being, only 6% of children in foster care are enrolled in this important program. Similarly, although foster youth are three times as likely as the general population to be identified as being in need of special education services, they are half as likely to receive them.  Foster youth are less likely than their counterparts to be enrolled in federally-supported, school-based enrichment programs such as after-school activities or mentoring initiatives.

Why is this?  Again, there are many reasons but one of the main problems is that most of these programs rely on a parent—or at least an adult acting like a parent—to enroll these youth in these programs.  Youth in care are most often represented by social workers who have a long list of things they are supposed to be doing for the children in their caseload and often lack the time, expertise and resources needed to accomplish these goals. Foster parents, as discussed before, are also not ably fulfilling this role.  So the programs exist to help youth in care, they are just not currently doing so.

These are the types of questions CCAI strives to provide answers to everyday.  We look forward to working with Next Generation, the Washington Post and all of the committed partners who attended the event yesterday.   As my former boss Senator Landrieu used to say, “Children might only constitute thirty percent of America’s population, but they are undeniably 100% of America’s future.”

How the Adoption Incentives Program can Incentivize Adoptions

Today, the Subcommittee on Human Resources of the Committee on Ways and Means held a hearing to review the success of several privately run programs to increase the number of children adopted out of foster care. This marks the beginning of the committee’s efforts to review—and hopefully reauthorize—a federal program entitled the Adoption Incentives Program.  Originally created in 1997 as part of the Adoption and Safe Families Act, the Adoption Incentives Program has delivered a total of $375 million in bonuses to states that were successful in increasing the number of children adopted out of foster care.

Subcommittee on Human Resources of the Committee on Ways and Means Adoption Incentives Hearing.
Subcommittee on Human Resources of the Committee on Ways and Means Adoption Incentives Hearing.

Since the inception of the Adoption Incentives Program, more than half a million children found their forever homes. Despite this success, however, over 100,000 foster children are still waiting to be adopted.  If trends continue, approximately 50% of these children will succeed in finding homes through adoption and 50% will continue to wait.  Statistics reveal that those who remain waiting are most often older children, members of larger sibling groups or those children who have special physical or mental health needs.  In fact, according to a the most recent AFCARS report, the average age of a child adopted out of foster care is 6, while the average age of a child waiting to be adopted out of care is 8.

So the question before Congress is this: how can the federal government incentivize states to find a home for every child? The programs highlighted in today’s committee hearing prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is no such thing as an unadoptable child, just an unfound family.   There are at least three lessons to learn from these programs’ experiences.

  • States cannot employ “a one-size-fit-all” strategy for finding a permanent home for a child.  Efforts to recruit an adoptive family for a child must be as diverse as the children themselves.
  • States that have succeeded in finding homes for older and special needs children have done so in close partnership with community and faith-based partners.  Such partnerships allow state child welfare agencies to be more innovative in their approach; address critical workforce gaps; increase their reach into communities where perspective adoptive parents are likely to be found; and provide post- adoption support.
  • Finally, success in finding an adoptive family for every child who needs one is premised on the belief that all children need and deserve a family

If Congress hopes to replicate the successes of the types of programs highlighted today it must learn from these lessons and better incorporate them into the current Adoption Incentives Program.  Congress might also want to consider whether the current model of providing an individual bonus per adoption is the best way to incentivize adoption for older and special needs children. Perhaps this group would be better served by a model similar to the Department of Education’s “Race to the Top,” a federally-funded contest which provides funds to states that successfully put forward groundbreaking, thoughtful plans to address four key educational reform areas.  While the full effects of “Race to the Top” remain to be seen, preliminary findings indicate that it has been successful in spurring innovation and improving in educational outcomes. A similar approach might better incentivize states to be more innovative by providing more concentrated support for their efforts to find homes for harder to place children.

Another idea might be to use the adoption bonuses as a way to incentivize certain policies and practices that have been proven effective in finding homes for children. For instance, provide rewards to states that use adoption recruiters as opposed to making finding an adoptive family one of the many tasks assigned to an overloaded caseworker.  Or grant bonuses to states that severely limit the use of an alternative planned permanent living arrangement (APPLA) for older youth.  Under this approach, the federal government might use the “carrot approach” to reward states that provide robust post adoption services, reduce the amount of time between termination of parental rights and the completion of adoption and engage in interstate adoptions.

We would like to thank Chairman Reichert for his leadership in dedicating the first subcommittee hearing of the 113 congress to such an important and impactful topic. We look forward to working with Members of Congress to explore these and other ways this important program might better serve its stated goal: to find families for waiting children.