Adoption advocates hope to recruit enough parents to take in the 107,000 children in America’s foster care system who are waiting for permanent families. And it’s not just because November is National Adoption Month. For too many children, foster care has become more of a trap door than a safety net, says Thomas Atwood, former president of the National Council for Adoption.
“(T)hey languish for years in multiple placements without the loving parents and permanent family that all children need and deserve,” Atwood writes in a paper published earlier this year by The Heritage Foundation. “As a result, every year tens of thousands of youth age out of foster care without a family.”
When young people “age out” of the system at age 18 or 21 (depending on state law), they often face daunting circumstances. Compared to peers, they are less likely to graduate from high school, more likely to be unemployed, have a child out outside of marriage, depend on welfare or be convicted of a crime.
The spotlight on the promise of adoption also is welcome for children just entering the world. When it comes to unplanned pregnancies, abortion and single parenting are far more common than adoption.
More than a million abortions a year are performed in the United States. By comparison, in 2007 only 15 infant adoptions occurred for every 1,000 abortions, according to this year’s Adoption Factbook.
This disparity is reflected in the activities of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, which in 2009 performed 332,278 abortions but referred only 977 women to adoption agencies. Single mothers who opt against abortion overwhelmingly opt against adoption too, reports Adoption Factbook. About 10 adoptions occurred for every 1,000 births outside marriage in 2007, down from about 19 in 1996.
“A fairly common attitude in the child welfare system is that infant adoption should almost never happen,” Atwood notes. “Instead, the government should provide adequate resources for single mothers so that they do not need to place their children for adoption.”
This outlook results in obvious strains on taxpayers. More than $300 billion annually goes to welfare benefits for single-parent households. Plenty of data show the significant stresses on single mothers as well. For example, the Census Bureau reports that the poverty rate in 2009 for households headed by single mothers was 38.5 percent, compared to 8.3 percent for married parents with children. Expectant single mothers should know their options. And more could-be adoptive parents should hear about the need.
That’s the goal of initiatives such as Wait No More, launched in 2008 by Focus on the Family to alert more Americans to the urgency of the need for adoption. The program gathers government leaders, churches, private adoption agencies and prospective adoptive parents to provide information and opportunities to begin the adoption process on site. To date, 7,100 have attended Wait No More events, with 1,791 families initiating adoption of foster children. In Colorado, the number of foster children waiting for adoption dropped from about 800 to 350, thanks to the efforts of Wait No More in conjunction with other ministries and agencies.
Policymakers also can help by increasing the adoption services available to pregnant mothers and children. In some states, the effect of public policy is to force certain religious adoption agencies out of business because they object to placing children in households with two parents of the same sex.
In Illinois, just 10 days before Thanksgiving, Catholic Charities announced the closing of foster care and adoption services after the state insisted that it allow placements with same-sex couples. As attorney Peter Breen observed in a statement issued by the Thomas More Society, which represented Catholic Charities, the announcement “marks the tragic end to 90 years of foster care service by some of the most effective child welfare agencies in Illinois.”
In Massachusetts and the District of Columbia, similar policies already had forced religious groups out of foster care and adoption — a loss for many needy children.
Thankfully, for each child waiting to be adopted from foster care, America has three houses of worship. Child and family services with religious affiliations have large, established networks of prospective parents and caregivers. With more than 100,000 children waiting for homes, policymakers should encourage, not create barriers for, these providers. Let’s hope National Adoption Month will help bring the need and opportunity back into focus.
• Marshall is director of the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at The Heritage Foundation and author of the book “Now and Not Yet: Making Sense of Single Life in the Twenty-First Century.”