Q&A: Adoption Month

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Q: How are you working to observe National Adoption Month this year?

A: During this season of Thanksgiving, families across America make plans to travel and spend the holiday with loved ones. Family rituals and menus make Thanksgiving a special tradition to look forward to from year to year. Giving thanks for the blessings of food, faith, family and freedom fill hearts and homes across the country with joy and gratitude.

Unfortunately, some children in America don't grow up experiencing certain rites of passage, such as sitting at the kids' table or making a wish with the turkey's "wishbone" or going back for seconds or even thirds at their Thanksgiving feast.

For more than 400,000 children who currently are placed in our foster care system and await permanent adoption or family reunification, there is too often a sense of hopelessness among some kids who desperately want to belong and have a permanent place to call home and forever parents to call Mom and Dad.

In fact, more than 23,000 kids "age out" of foster care without ever finding a forever family. Imagine the uphill climb to navigate the expectations for adulthood without the support and mentoring that parents provide. In fact, the absence of a permanent support system and family foundation makes it more difficult to find a job, pursue an advanced degree and stick with it, and pay their bills to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table.

Teen-agers already struggle with indecision and uncertainty when it comes to mapping out their futures. Imagine the extra layers of hardship that apply to older youth in foster care who already may feel shuffled around, unwanted or abandoned during a crucial time of adolescence.

As founder and co-chair of the Senate Caucus on Foster Youth, I work to give foster youth a voice and a platform to help raise awareness and bring people together to learn what society can do better to serve foster kids, especially those who leave the system, or "age out" and start their adult journey without a permanent home or forever family. This month our bipartisan caucus is launching a series of policy conversations to identify shortcomings and help improve the delivery of child welfare services that provide a critical public service in local communities.

We also will assess the implementation of a 2014 federal law that requires child welfare agencies and caregivers to prioritize the ability for foster youth to participate in age-appropriate activities that teen-agers do within the course of daily life, such as attending field trips, hanging out with friends, dating, getting an after-school job or learning to drive.

Kids want to be kids, whether they live with their biological family, foster family or adoptive family. For those who live with uncertainty, normalcy and permanency are lifelines to their emotional well-being and social development and mental health.

Q: What other initiatives do you have in store for foster youth?

A: In coming months, I intend to focus on more ways to help older foster youth, such as improving higher education opportunities and preventing homelessness.

We'll hear directly from foster youth about challenges they face in entering the workforce. We'll look at ways to ensure older youth are financially literate and able to take charge of their own credit worthiness. We need to ensure the programs in place are working to increase opportunities for employment. So as families, friends and neighbors gather to celebrate Thanksgiving across America, I encourage Iowans to enjoy the feast and fellowship and cherish the time together with loved ones. Be grateful for the blessings of hearth and home as you gather around the table.

Through my years advocating for foster youth, I know it's their greatest desire to have a forever home where they are called to the table every night of the week with families who share unconditional love and concern for their well-being from the moment they wake up in the morning to the moment they lay their head on the pillow at night. That's why I will continue setting the policymaking tables with reforms that will help the hundreds of thousands of youth who are placed in our foster care system to find forever homes and to hold accountable those entrusted to provide child welfare services to the youngest members of our society.

For the kids who do not find forever homes and age out of foster care, I work to hear directly from them to hear their story and learn from their experiences to find out what works and what doesn't work. Bringing everyone to the policymaking tables, from foster families, to child welfare advocates and juvenile court workers, helps policymakers make more informed decisions that stretches limited resources and builds opportunities for kids who age out of the system to succeed and transition to independence.