The world watched with eager anticipation as power transitioned last week to President Joe Biden. The paths, priorities and policies he chooses will impact not just Americans, but citizens everywhere. Arguably, they will be felt most of all by our planet’s children.
They didn’t vote for the U.S. president, but they will reap his legacy. More than ever, they need the country that was once a global leader on many fronts to set the pace of change for child welfare reform that really makes a difference.
Never before has a generation been so united in hardship. Most young people around the world have had their education disrupted as a result of the pandemic. Many are facing immediate and ongoing mental health challenges in what has been called the pandemic’s fourth wave. Too many are tumbling into poverty because of the economic fallout. Tragically, some have even lost a caregiver or other loved one to COVID-19.
For children in foster care – who, due to circumstances independent of coronavirus, have seen their family support and mental well-being challenged – this year has been even more disastrous. Without an urgent commitment to child welfare, a new generation of children will be transported into destitution, exploitation and system dependence.
President Biden has already promised to put right his predecessor’s shameful practice of separating children from their parents at the southern border. But around the world, children are being separated from their families by other invisible barriers created by poor policy, inaccessibility to healthcare, systemic racism and injustice.
Tragically, worldwide, there are an estimated 5.4 million children who are living in orphanages, although recent studies have shown that up to 90% of them have a living relative. Added to that are the millions of children in institutional care or temporary care separated from birth families and/or adoptive families by delays and deficiencies in the world’s overburdened foster care systems. What Biden does for America’s half million young people in foster care in the next four years may well impact the way other countries treat their most vulnerable citizens for decades.
Early intervention policies, like those included in the Family First Prevention Services Act, are a step in the right direction that could quickly begin to make a difference. While President Trump signed the act into law, he did little to support it. If fully implemented, the act will usher in the largest changes to child welfare in 40 years, and has the potential to dramatically and forever improve foster care in the United States. The plan shifts funding from institutional care to community-based care that focuses on keeping children with a family member or loved one.
At the other end of America’s child welfare spectrum, the national bipartisan #AllInForAdoption campaign is shedding light on the 125,000 U.S. children in foster care who are legally free for adoption but are waiting for forever families. Sadly, many of these children will exit the foster care system with no family, mentor or supports in place. However, with swift commitment from the new administration, Biden can show the world that this is unacceptable.
Biden’s personal experience that attests to the trauma of family loss may help him steer the U.S. in a new direction. An expanded commitment to ensure all American children spend as much of their childhoods as possible in safe, loving, permanent families where they can find the belonging and security they deserve will make a difference not just for them, but for children around the world.
For everyone’s sake we hope the U.S. sets the bar high in its commitment. No child should be separated indefensibly from their families, no child should come into care unnecessarily, no child should wait in care endlessly, and no child should age out of care needlessly.