As November and Adoption Awareness Month fade from our minds and we begin to shift our excited focus towards a holiday season spent with our families, I want to bring your attention to something really heart-stopping:
In Canada, there are nearly 30,000 children available for adoption.
That's 30,000 children with NO permanent family to celebrate their holidays with.
I don't know about you, but I could and would toss the presents and holiday food out the window if I had to choose between them and having my family with me for the holidays.
If only 0.4% of Canadians who have considered adoption from foster care would take the next step and move forward with adopting a child, then EVERY SINGLE CHILD currently in Canada's foster care system would have a permanent family.
I recently had the pleasurable honour of speaking with Rita Soronen, President and CEO of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, and she had some profound insights into foster adoption. The Foundation focuses a good amount of effort on education and awareness,but their primary focus is dedicated to helping existing domestic child welfare agencies with finding permanent families for children currently in foster care. The "Wendy's Wonderful Kids" program provides funds to existing Canadian agencies to fund the in-house hire, salary and support of an adoption recruiter who works with a smaller caseload of waiting children than other social workers do, to advocate on behalf of the children for a family to adopt them, as well as stay in frequent communication with the children and their existing networks of foster families, teachers, etc. Sadly, the current public social services system is inundated with overflowing caseloads, making it difficult for regular social workers to spend the amount of time and energy that they'd like to on each individual child in need, particularly those with developmental, physical or emotional challenges. Wendy's Wonderful Kids' recruiters focus on children that may have been deemed "unadoptable" in order to find these children families before they age-out of the child welfare system at age 18, when they are expected to function as adults, yet may not have had the opportunities to build the skills required for those expectations, nor have the support system available to assist them as they struggle to cope without even a foster family or social worker. As Ms. Soronen stated in our conversation, you don't stop needing a family and a support team once you turn eighteen. She is so right. Family is forever and I can't imagine what I would do without my parents, even at my age.
The program is currently operating in five provinces of Canada, with strategic plans to move into all provinces as their non-profit budget allows. Since its inception in 2006, the program has had 480 children on its caseload, with approximately 312 of them matched and 149 of those in finalized adoptions.
I asked Ms. Soronen what she felt was the biggest misconception Canadians (and Americans) may have about foster adoption, and her words were profound. She shared her feeling that society as a whole has a very negative attitude about tweens and teenagers. When was the last time you heard the parent of a teenager discuss teenagers without rolling their eyes and saying "Teenagers!" in a negative way? This negative attitude towards youth is inaccurate, because it represents an unrealistic expectation of teens who are simply learning to function independently of their parents and often try out different behaviors and speech patterns in order to better-prepare themselves for adulthood. Sadly, it's these seemingly moody or unpredictable behaviors that apparently concern parents the most. Add to these developmentally-expected adolescent behaviors the difficult life circumstances that many children in foster care have endured prior to being placed in care, and you have a child in a teen's body trying to cope with a burden that they are ill-equipped to deal with, through no fault of their own.
In short — teens in general get a bad rap for being what they should be, and adolescents in foster care even more so.
The report on adoption attitudes in Canada also outlines that there is a misconception that children in foster care are there through some fault of their own — criminal behavior, addictions, violence — when really, what is often the case is that the biological parents have subjected these children to their adult issues, in turn motivating child welfare agencies to remove the children from these traumatic homes for their own protection. The child is never to blame for being in care. More importantly, we also need to understand that these children are not to blame for how they cope with these tragic life circumstances. Often, the child's flight-or-fight response is so highly tuned to deal with these conditions that the child will behave in a hostile, depressive, aggressive or rejecting manner, when really they are simply trying to avoid getting hurt again emotionally and/or physically. Sometimes their trauma, loss and grief is more than they know how to handle.
These are not "bad" kids, and the values of the Dave Thomas Foundation reflect this:
Every child deserves to live in a safe, loving, and permanent family.
No child should linger in foster care or leave the system at age 18 without a permanent family of his or her own.
Every child is adoptable.
The most astounding revelation of the report shows that huge numbers of Canadians have thought about foster adoption, yet have not moved past thinking about it to act on it. Yes, children in foster care have special needs, yet society still erroneously seems to think that these special needs should be handled by somebody else.
I challenge this line of thinking that I, too, have suffered from in the past. In our own personal adoption journey, Huzbo and I also considered foster adoption, but ultimately felt that knowing prior to adoption that a child had an emotional, behavioral or physical challenge (or even all three) was too daunting for us to take on. We naively thought that adopting internationally was perhaps a way to avoid taking on special needs.
Boy, were we mistaken.
Quite simply, I firmly believe now that EVERY child who has been adopted has special needs. They may be invisible emotional needs, but they are always there from the core trauma hard-wired into the brains of children who have lost their birth parents.
In addition, even biological children are currently being diagnosed in record numbers with medical conditions such as ADD/ADHD, autism, allergies, etc. All of them have special needs that simply require specific attention. Not additional attention. Not harder-to-love-them attention. Just attention directed towards these needs. How many parents of biological kids would say "Boy, if I knew then that my child was going to end up with autism/ADHD/allergies, I wouldn't have had him or her!" That's right — nobody. So why do we feel it's ok to think that way about children in foster care? It's not. Children in foster care are no different and no more challenging. Parenting is a challenging business, no matter how easygoing and well-behaved your child might be. Yet the rewards always seem to outweigh the challenges and foster children need a family to share their love with too.
If you are one of those Canadians who has considered foster adoption but has been afraid to take the next steps, I urge you to contact Dave Thomas Foundation, or at least visit their website to find out more information. It is overflowing with helpful and informative resources for you to educate yourself about foster adoption. Your questions are valid and the best way to feel better about moving towards foster adoption is to get all the information you can. You may just find that many of your concerns or fears are completely unfounded!
If you feel that foster adoption may never be the right choice for you, there are still ways to help! Please visit the Dave Thomas Foundation website for ways that you can help to help support the vital work that the foundation is doing for children who need a permanent family.
Now, before you head out to the mall to load up on presents and delicious holiday foods to share with YOUR family and children, have a look at this video and think about what family means to you. Chances are, it means even more to the children who don't have one.
"These children aren't someone else's responsibility, they are our responsibility." —Dave Thomas