When most kind-hearted adults consider bringing a child into their home for various reasons, they often choose to adopt a toddler, baby or infant they can raise, shape and influence. More often than not, this leaves out the possibility of adopting a pre-teen girl or boy. More than 80 percent of state adoptions finalized since 1998 involve foster children under the age of 11.
Finding adoptive families for older children in the foster care system is difficult due to the special needs resulting from exposure to drugs or alcohol prior to birth, maltreatment and numerous foster case placements. I am working withone young lady who has lived in a whopping 65 different foster homes. It seems unfathomable to think of being placed in so many different homes and expect a person to enter adulthood mentally stable. </p>
This dilemma becomes a lose-lose situation for both foster children and society at large. Older children are at much greater risk of aging out of the foster care system without ever finding a stable home. After being released from the supportive dependency of foster care and suddenly thrust into adulthood, these young people are at high risk for homelessness, unemployment and arrest.
The numbers are alarming: Approximately one-third of them failed to complete high school and very few enter college. Nearly half become unemployed. About 25 percent of them become homeless. About one-third receive public assistance benefits and approximately 25 percent become arrested or spend some time incarcerated.
The loss of their childhood home and parents is compounded when children are separated from their brothers and sisters. The feeling of not being connected to their family becomes overwhelming and grows as the child becomes a teenager. When that same teenager is overlooked for adoption time and time again, hopelessness and despair becomes prevalent. Foster children separated from their siblings as young children are lonely and often become emotionally detached. Their confusion and feelings of disconnect fosters continued instability well into adulthood. These are the outcomes of a government failing to raise its children properly.
As parents to California's nearly 100,000 foster youth, it is our responsibility to care for these children and make sure they are afforded a proper upbringing full of love and given the tools to become responsible adults. However, we cannot turn our backs on them just because they have matured passed infancy. Pre-teens are still impressionable and we can still shape their minds to become productive citizens. All children, including teenagers, deserve a stable family and hope for the future. We should start by promoting permanent placement into loving families and caring homes.
For these reasons, my Senate Bill 1712, moving through the legislature, would provide incentives to families that adopt older foster youth. The bill also studies best practices to promote adoption of “hard-to-place” children aged 11 to 18 years old. If passed into law the state will assist San Francisco county in providing peer support for adoptive families, ongoing case management, sibling reunification and mental health services among other supportive services to adoptive families.
Thankfully, the Governor and the Legislature have earmarked $4 million statewide in the budget to provide adoption assistance for older children.
The fiscal analysis on my bill indicates a cost savings to the state by increasing the number of adoptions to safe and loving homes and decreasing the amount of taxpayer dollars on foster care payments. Ultimately we can see a win-win situation — permanent placement and a sense of a family connection for older teens that are in their prime years of preparing for adulthood, as well as a decrease in negative effects resulting from foster youth who feel neglected and unwanted and often react negatively, to the detriment of society at large.
These are our children. From the time government removes them from their home until they become adults, we are responsible for their well-being, proper upbringing and, most importantly, effective support from infancy, to adolescence, right through their pre-teen and teen years.