Many of us have spent years aggressively advocating for families and for children and youth in foster care who cannot return home. This year, we have an opportunity on Capitol Hill to ensure that even more children achieve the ultimate goal of having a permanent, loving family who can meet their needs.
The bipartisan Family First Prevention Services Act (known as the Family First Act), which passed the House of Representatives unanimously this summer, is now stalled in the Senate. This bill would keep children safely with birth families, ensure relatives have support to care for children who cannot remain at home, and offer needed support to foster and adoptive families.
For nearly a decade, the adoption community has worked to normalize the fact that adopted children and their families often need significant support post-adoption. The Congressional Research Service reports that, due in large part to the trauma they have experienced, between 50 to 75 percent of youth in foster care exhibit behavioral or social challenges that may require mental health treatment. Many of these children will be adopted; nearly 50,000 children were adopted from foster care in 2014 alone. When these children and youth join their new families through adoption, they will often find the comfort, safety and stability that only a family can provide.
Unfortunately, love will not conquer all. It is well documented that adoptive families seek mental health services for their children at higher rates than the general public. We now understand that abuse, neglect, and trauma have long-term impacts on mental and physical health, which too often results in significant challenges and even crises. We also know that ongoing support can keep adoptive families together and ensure that adoption is truly a permanent option for children leaving foster care.
Too often, families are forced to relinquish custody of their adopted children because of the children’s serious emotional, mental or behavioral health needs. Adopted children return to the custody of child welfare or enter juvenile justice systems to access needed mental health treatments. The Family First Act would allow adopted children to receive these needed mental health and parenting services without re-entering care. Affiliates of the Federation of Families and child advocates across the country identify custody relinquishment as a problem in at least half the states, with the most frequent incidence in Colorado, Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska, Tennessee and West Virginia.
Families are also asked to relinquish custody to receive support in Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Texas and Utah. Currently, Senators from Texas and California have placed a hold on the Family First Act, and are keeping this critically important legislation from moving forward. If these holds are not released, the bill will die and children, youth, and families from across the country will be denied access to vital post-adoption services.
Keeping families together, and keeping a child out of the foster care system, is a vital public interest. We know that children do better in families than in foster care.
The outcomes facing youth who exit foster care without a family are startling and depressing. One study found that 25 percent of young people who aged out of foster care did not receive a high school diploma or GED. Fewer than 2 percent of foster care alumni finished college. More than half of youth who aged out of foster care experienced episodes of homelessness, and nearly 30 percent were incarcerated at some point. Compared to children who remain in foster care, children who are adopted have been shown to be 54 percent less likely to be delinquent or arrested, 19 percent less likely to become a teen parent, and 76 percent more likely to be employed.
In addition to helping children, adoption saves the government money — tens of thousands of dollars are saved for every child adopted from foster care. A 2006 study, cited by the Children’s Bureau, found that “approximately $65,422 to $126,825 is saved for every child who is adopted rather than placed in long-term foster care. ”
Keeping families together, and keeping a child out of the foster care system, is vital. We need Congress to pass the Family First Prevention Services Act to support adoptive families, as it also wisely seeks to prevent children from entering foster care in the first place.
Schylar Baber is executive director of Voice for Adoption. Mary Boo is executive director of the North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC). Rita Soronen is president and CEO of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption.