Think back to when you were leaving high school and starting college. What did you do in the summer? Attend cookouts and other events with your family? Sleep in and hang out with friends? Work to earn money for school?
What about the 20,000 youth in foster care who age out each year. How do they spend their summers? Couch surfing? Worrying about earning enough money to move into an apartment? Wondering if they can afford college?
I was lucky. At 11, after years of abuse and instability, I entered care for the last time. I finally connected all the dots after a DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) officer at my school explained that physical, sexual, and verbal abuse was not part of a normal upbringing. Angry at all I had suffered, I asked my worker to find an adoptive family for me.
The DARE officer helped me find a foster home, kept in touch with me, and became a role model and mentor. She took me out shopping, participated in activities like a parent might, and was always there if I needed something.
At 14, I joined a stable and loving adoptive family. My family and I bonded quickly. We all love music, traveling, and the family dog. Because I had never had anyone read books to me or care for me when I was sick, they helped fill the gaps of my past. I started out in my new family reading Dr. Seuss books, being introduced to cooking, and simply learning how to be part of a regular family.
With my parents’ and our adoptive social worker’s support, I caught up in school and earned a B.A. in human services from Stevenson University. Next, my parents pushed me to apply for an internship with the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI). The process was not easy, but I succeeded and interned for Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC). Then I joined Senator Mary Landrieu’s (D-LA) staff, and recently I became an administrative specialist at Casey Family Programs.
As I said, I was lucky. Everyday, about 104,000 children in the U.S. foster care system are waiting in group homes, shelters, and foster homes to come home to a permanent family. Every child needs and deserves a supportive, loving family.
My much older birth siblings were not so fortunate. Like many other youth who age out of care, all three faced significant obstacles to success like homelessness, unemployment, depression, and substance abuse. While I was applying for the CCAI internship, my 35-year-old brother committed suicide.
Far too often I meet foster care system alumni who wish they had been adopted. Some youth were never given that option. Some were given the case goal of Another Planned Permanent Living Arrangement. Many knew that adoption was not a realistic expectation because their foster parents would have to trade low foster payments for even lower adoption subsidy payments.
Even so, I, and many of my brothers and sisters who spent years in care, strongly believe adoption is the best exit strategy for youth in foster care. Youth who are adopted from foster care have much better educational and social outcomes than those who age out. One study reported that individuals who are adopted from care earn 74 percent more than those who stay in foster care until they age out.
For states, adoption saves money. Multiple studies have shown that it is less expensive for a youth to be adopted with adoption assistance than for a child to remain in care up to age 18. Some researchers estimate that the 50,000 children adopted from foster care each year save states as much as $3.3 to $6.3 billion.
When I was in foster care, I never imagined I would be adopted. I thought no one would want an older child because everyone thinks they have bad behaviors. I thought adults were scared of older children and didn’t want to risk bringing them into their home.
My life shows how being adopted from care can result in great outcomes. I have an education and a career because of the amazing family who chose to take me in despite the costs to them. The state would not have paid for the 18 months of private tutoring I needed, and other supports, but my adoptive family felt I was worth the investment.
At the end of the day, I never look at my family as my “adoptive family,” but as the family I’ve always had. For me, adoption means knowing that forever and always I have a place to call home and someone to love me no matter what. Thank you, Mom and Dad, for giving me a chance to make my dreams come true.