May is National Foster Care Month.
Getting school-age kids out of foster care
May is National Foster Care Month, a good time to reflect on Downey Side’s long relationship with foster care. After all, foster care is where our kids come from and that’s true for around two-thirds of all adoptions in the US.
It’s never a child’s fault that he or she winds up in foster care. However, after spending some time in the system, a child often starts to feel there’s something wrong with them if they’re not adopted. The longer they stay in the system, the less chance they have of being adopted out. 17-year-olds make up only 2% of adoptions from foster care. So, it’s hardly surprising they feel that way and develop coping mechanisms to convince themselves that family life is not for them.
What’s important to understand is that family is about lifelong support and connections, not simply having adults telling kids what to do. This is evident in the long-term outcomes for youth who age out of the system. Homelessness is an immediate impact for 20%. For young women, 70% become pregnant before reaching 21 years old. And less than 3% earn a college degree.
In 2021, the most recent year with data, there were nearly 400,000 kids in foster care. The majority of children in foster care are returned to their parents or other kinfolk, although that typically takes 1 to 2 years. But there were 114,000 kids waiting to be adopted. The average age of a child in care is between 7 and 8 years old. However, when you ask potential adoptive parents what age range of children are they interested in, infants and toddlers are most desirable — a mere 3% are looking for kids aged 13 or older. Tragically this fits with the general societal view that teenagers are unadoptable.
People only need to look at Downey Side to side that is absolutely untrue school-aged kids aren’t adoptable. Getting school-aged kids out of foster care is what we do. We’ve been doing it for over 50 years and we’re very good at it. How do we know? Because when we put families together they stay together. Yes, very occasionally things don’t work out. But our track record of retention of children is demonstrably higher than most agencies— 95% of our placements stick.
Which is why we’ve been extremely busy. This year we’ve already placed five girls between the ages of 8 and 17, (from Michigan, Georgia, South Dakota and Texas) plus eight boys, ranging from 8 to 16 (from Missouri, New Hampshire, South Dakota and Texas). And of course, the work continues.
In future blog posts, we’ll be sharing the stories of parents who’ve adopted school-aged children and discussing why they decided to do it and what it’s been like. These are stories children in foster care desperately need to be told. They need to realize there is hope.
So, please spread the word. Share this blog with your friends. You’d be surprised who might be considering adoption but hasn’t told you. And it’s very possible they’ve never considered school-aged children but perhaps they should.
Yours for children,
— Author of America’s Youngest Hostages, and board member of Downey Side.