May 2014: Memorial Day & National Foster Care Month


Every year in May, during the holiday weekend as the nation celebrates Memorial Day and remembers those who died in our nation’s service, I call my grandmother to wish her a Happy Memorial Day. While she did not serve personally, her brothers and husband did. We often talk about her brother Ralph who died at the age of 19 as he served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. His ship, the USS Indianapolis, was torpedoed and sunk by a Japanese submarine in the Pacific Ocean on July 30, 1945–just two weeks before the nation celebrated “Victory over Japan” on August 15. My grandmother has shared with me how her family was still mourning the very recent loss of her brother as the rest of nation cheered that day. I call my grandmother every Memorial Day in part because I can–she is the matriarch of my father’s family and I enjoy talking to her. But I also call because her story is my story through our shared family history, and I want her to know that someone remembers her brother’s—and by extension her family’s—sacrifice.

In the world of child advocacy, May is also when we celebrate National Foster Care Month. Originally designated by the Children’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 20 years ago, National Foster Care Month (NFCM) provides an annual opportunity to recognize the approximately 400,000 children and youth living in foster care, as well as their foster parents, child-welfare workers, advocates and mentors. It also continues to bring attention to the many challenges faced by children and youth in foster care. Although foster care is intended to be temporary, children and youth remain in the system for an average of two years, and more than 23,400 youth age out of foster care each year without reunification or adoption.

At CCAI, we are keenly aware of the heart cries of these children to be part of a safe, loving and forever family—and this May we are focused on raising awareness about the challenges that older children and youth face in finding their forever families. Did you know that of the 101,666 children available for adoption out of foster care in FY 2012, only 52,039 were adopted? And sadly, for children age nine or older, who make up 48% of the total number of children in foster care, only 25% (13,184) from this age group were adopted (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2013). We know that without the security and support of a family, those who age out of foster care struggle to obtain housing, insurance, higher education and employment. We also know that all too often laws and policies create barriers that make it difficult for children to find their forever families, and thus CCAI’s mission is to identify any such barriers and support policymakers as they remedy them.

President Obama expressed his support for National Foster Care Month in an official Presidential Proclamation; both the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives registered their support through Resolutions. Add your voice to theirs! This May, we invite you to consider ways you might become more involved in the lives of children and youth in foster care – because every single child deserves the opportunity to call a grandparent of their very own on Memorial Day and learn parts of our nation’s history through a special connection with someone who lived it.

Becky Weichhand, Director of Policy, CCAI

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 Foster Youth Intern’s Congressional Report leads to FAFSA Fix at the U.S. Department of Education

During her summer in Washington, D.C., CCAI Foster Youth Intern (FYI) Maurissa Sorensen brought to light a troubling problem surrounding higher education and foster youth in the United States. In the 2012 Foster Youth Internship Report, Hear Me Now, Maurissa explained how the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form was not designed to help alumni of U.S. foster care identify the federal resources for higher education that were created for them to access. As Maurissa explained in her report, “when I started community college, I was asked to fill out the FAFSA form, which included checking a box stating that I was a foster youth. I now understand that the purpose of this box is to separate out youth who will not be able to comply with the sections of the form that address parental income. I spent more than seven years in community college and filled out the FAFSA form each year. Unfortunately, during this time, no one from the federal government ever used this information that I was a foster youth to bring attention to the U.S. Department of Education that I was a student who may need additional resources and supports.”

A December 2012 CCAI blog post featured Maurissa and how her testimony and contribution to the FYI report (starting on page 19) prompted action by former Senator John Kerry who introduced the Foster Youth Higher Education Opportunities Act that same year after Maurissa interned in his office. The bill directed the Department of Education to ensure foster youth are aware of any and all potential assistance they can attain in pursuing a higher education. The bill was not passed into law, but Senators Feinstein, Inhofe and Landrieu picked up the idea as their former colleague transitioned to his role as Secretary of State.

On January 17, 2014, President Obama signed into law the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014. Senator Landrieu and her staff worked to ensure that Division H, Title III, Section 310 of the bill directs the Secretary of Education to modify the FAFSA form so that it contains an individual box for identifying students who are current or former foster youth, as well as to use that identification as a tool to notify those students of their potential eligibility for federal student aid.

On February 3, fourteen U.S. Senators sent a letter was sent to Secretaries Arne Duncan (DOE) and Kathleen Sebelius (HHS) on behalf of current and former foster youth regarding their educational outcomes. The letter noted that only three percent of foster youth graduate from college, and that in addition to recent changes to raise awareness of resources for foster youth more changes were needed. Specifically, the Senators’ letter asked that “the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services coordinate dissemination efforts to reach foster youth and provide them with information about the resources that have been created to help them succeed.”

In response, Secretary Duncan sent a March 5, 2014 letter detailing plans for specific DOE outreach activities and other next steps to address the problem of insufficient awareness of information and resources for foster youth pursuing higher education. In his letter, Secretary Duncan listed a number of initiatives that were under way and planned to raise awareness about information and resources for foster youth, including Maurissa’s idea from the 2012 Foster Youth Internship Report: The Secretary’s letter announced that DOE will modify the 2015-2016 FASFA form to contain a box that identifies foster youth so that DOE can then notify them of their eligibility for federal higher education assistance specifically created for them.

Upon hearing this news, Maurissa responded:

As a foster youth alumni I have experienced the hardships and hurdles that many of our foster youth face, trying to juggle the balancing act of post-secondary schooling and managing personal finances. Foster youth are supposed to be able to access federal financial aid to offset some of the financial barriers of attending post-secondary education. In 2001 when I began my post-secondary educational journey I was not made aware of this funding, even though I filled out the FAFSA ever year and checked the appropriate box for foster youth. Over the last 13 years, without any of the funds created to assist me as a former foster youth in gaining my higher education, I have earned my Bachelors in Psychology from California State University, Chanel Islands, my Masters in Education from Harvard, and am now on track to earn my Masters in Social Work and Public Policy Administration in May 2016. I am overjoyed and excited to see the Department of Education taking initiative to use the FAFSA form as a tool to help identify and educate future youth about federal assistance programs they qualify for and hope this will spare them some of the additional challenges I faced acquiring higher education.

CCAI thanks Secretary Duncan for his leadership at the Department in addressing this critical information gap and expresses deep gratitude to Senators Dianne Feinstein, James Inhofe, Mary Landrieu, Richard Blumenthal, Tammy Baldwin, Jay Rockefeller, Al Franken, Ron Wyden, Patty Murray, Ben Cardin, Chuck Grassley, Carl Levin, and Tim Kaine for their continued dedication to fighting for better educational opportunities and outcomes for our nation’s current and former foster youth.

Adoption in the Media – Davion Only, Re-homing, Orphan Boom

Kathleen Strottman, CCAI’s Executive Director, is a regular contributor to Adoption Today magazine. This blog is her most recent published article. To purchase a subscription to Adoption Today magazine, click here.

Congressional Review and Response to Adoption in the News

Over the past several months adoption has been in the news a lot.  Perhaps as a result of the increased media attention, there has also been a corresponding surge in national conversations on the policy and practice issues raised by the various articles.  Below is a review of some of the recently published pieces and a brief summary of federal policy conversations they engender.


On September 9, 2013 Reuters and NBC published a five-part series, The Child Exchange, to bring attention to a practice since coined “re-homing”—when adoptive parents who have experienced challenges post adoption resort to privately placing their legally adopted children in the custody of another adult or family.   This series of articles not only brought public scrutiny to the practice but also prompted several other national news networks, such as Time Magazine and the Associated Press, to write stories on both what might cause a parent to consider re-homing their child and what might be done to ensure that the practice does not continue to put children at risk.

Since the release of the Reuter’s series, several child welfare and adoption advocacy organizations, including CCAI,  have issued reports and statements about the practice of rehoming.  In addition to providing a review of existing laws and policies on adoption, CCAI’s policy brief suggests that federal policymakers should consider:

  • Reviewing existing federal laws and regulations to ensure that prospective adoptive parents are both well informed and properly trained before an adoption is finalized.
  • Providing federal financial support so that child-specific, quality and affordable support services can be provided to more families post-adoption.
  • Considering the ways in which the federal government might use the Internet to provide more information and better support to prospective and current adoptive families.
  • Strengthening enforcement of the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children, as well as child abuse, abandonment and adoption laws to ensure that the interests of children are protected.

Members of Congress have also taken notice of the Reuters series and the issues it raises.  In September, Senator Klobuchar from Minnesota introduced S. 1527, the Supporting Adoptive Families Act and in October Congressman Langevin from Rhode Island introduced the “Protecting Adopted Children Act.”  Both bills seek to curb the practice of rehoming through the provision of training and support services both before and after an adoption.  The House bill also calls for the General Accounting Office (GAO) to do an in-depth study of the practice of re-homing including how children are being “advertised” on the internet.

Discussions of the federal policy issues raised by the Reuter’s piece are expected to continue well into the next session of Congress.  While Congress has not announced any plans for a formal Congressional hearing on the issue, it is possible some aspects of re-homing might be addressed in this way.  To date, Congressional inquiries have been focused on to what extent state and federal child welfare laws protect against improper custody transfers of adopted children and how these laws might be strengthened to avoid future harm to adopted children.

The Evangelical Orphan Boom

In September 2013, the New York Times published an article written by author Kathryn Joyce entitled “The Evangelical Orphan Boom.”   Much like her book, The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption,  Joyce’s  NY Times article posits the view that the “orphan crisis” is not a global crisis worthy of our universal concern but rather a dangerous myth perpetuated by Evangelical church leaders as part of their conservative, “pro-life agenda.”  This movement she says “while well intentioned, has exacerbated a boom and bust market for children.”

The Joyce article also warns that the potential for fraud and abuse in the current international adoption is too high.   Specifically, she cites concerns with the use of UNICEF’s orphan estimates as an estimate of the number of children in need of adoption because such estimates include children who are living in the care of family members.  She also points to cases of children who were put up for adoption, without their biological parent’s full understanding of what adoption means, as evidence of a system gone awry.

Much like the articles on rehoming, Joyce’s book and subsequent articles have engendered responses from many in the adoption community, the most notable being the Christian Alliance for Orphans.  For the most part, these responses have acknowledged that there is a need to reduce the potential for fraud and abuse within the international adoption system, but have also cautioned against calls for reform that obscure the reality that there are millions of children living outside of family care for whom international adoption is the only real hope of a permanent home.

Congress has not responded to Ms. Joyce’s concerns over the role of the Evangelical church has played in promoting international adoption, but there is an ongoing federal policy conversation on how the United States Government might work more effectively to ensure that the instances of fraud and abuse in international adoption are rare.  In September of 2013, Senators Mary Landrieu and Roy Blunt introduced a bill called “Children in Families First.”   In October, Congresswoman Kay Granger and Congresswoman Karen Bass introduced the same bill in the House.  The two bills combined have over 40 co-sponsors.  Among other things, the bill seeks to remedy the existing confusion that stems from using UNICEF’s orphan data as a proxy for the number of children in need of adoption by calling for a separate and more appropriate means of assessing the needs of children without family care.  It also seeks to reduce opportunities for fraud and abuse by providing technical and financial support to countries looking to establish Hague compliant systems for international adoption.

Davion Only

In October, the Tampa Bay Times featured a story about a fifteen year old young man named Davion Only who took his plea for an adoptive family to members of his church. Within hours of the article on his plight appearing in the Tampa paper and online, the story went viral.  In the week that followed, Davion was featured on the Today Show, the View and in People Magazine. His name now generates 1.4 million Google hits and he has had over 10,000 families inquire about adopting him.  With all likelihood, he will be celebrating this Christmas with a family to call his own.

While many are calling Davion’s story a success story, it has also raised many important policy questions. First, what can we do to help people better understand that there are 9,999 other children just like Davion waiting for a family?  Should we need to have the type of media attention that his story generated for this message to break through?  And similarly, would some of the 10,000 people who stepped up for Davion be willing to commit to one of these other youth instead?

Also on people’s mind is the most basic of questions: why did it take so long for him to get to where he is today?  According to the original article, Davion has been in foster care since his birth and available for adoption since he was 7. What about our current foster system needs to be improved so that the “Davion Onlys” out there do not have to spend a lifetime looking for the love and support they so clearly need and deserve?

Federal policymakers have made several efforts this year to better address the need for permanency among older youth.  Most notably, they are expected to reauthorize the federal Adoption Incentive program as well as make efforts to better focus this program on the needs of older youth.


The media can be an important and powerful tool for raising both the public attention and political will necessary to bring about change.  Over the past several months, the above stories on adoption have stimulated important conversations and brought wider public attention to the needs of foster and adopted children.  CCAI looks forward to continuing to play a role in ensuring that the federal policy conversations that result from this coverage are both thoughtful and informed.

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.