As of September 30, 2016, there were 437,465 children in foster care throughout the United States, an increase of 2.3 percent over the previous year and over 10 percent since 2012. This includes 117,794 children waiting for adoption; 65,274 of those children’s parents were terminated during that fiscal year.
This is an alarming number, especially if the trend continues. And with a growing opioid epidemic, all indications are that numbers for 2017 will be even higher.
The good news is, there’s something you can do about it. Read on for some ideas on how to get involved (and if you’re not interested in fostering or adopting, keep reading. There’s something for everyone on this list).
Of the over 117,000 children waiting for adoption at the end of the 2016 fiscal year, some of them (13 percent) were in a pre-adoptive home, waiting for the legal process to finalize their adoption. But many more were waiting for an adoptive home to be identified, and that’s still true today. If you want to make a direct impact on the number of children in foster care, adopt one (or more) out of it. You can search for waiting children on Adoption.com’s photolisting page, adoptuskids.org, or go here to find contact information for your state, territory, or tribe.
Many areas around the country are struggling to find and keep good foster homes. Foster parents obviously have an impact on the children in their care, but they are also frequently a voice for change in the system as a whole. In some cases, foster parents serve as a mentor and support system for their foster child’s birth parents, both while the child is in care and after he or she is reunified. For more information and to look for local agencies, visit the Child Welfare Information Gateway.
Every child in foster care deserves an objective advocate for his or her best interest, and this is what a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) or guardian ad litem (GAL) volunteer does. CASAs make a long-term commitment to a case, but the actual time involved averages about 10 hours a month, depending on the stage of the case. If you want to make a direct impact on the life of a child in foster care but can’t adopt or foster, becoming a CASA volunteer might be a good fit (and it’s also a good way to find out more about the world of foster care before jumping in as a foster parent). Visit www.casaforchildren.org to look for a program in your area.
Sometimes, families in crisis may reach out for help before things get to the point where the child welfare system gets involved. Safe Families for Children provide temporary homes for children with the goal of becoming an extended family for the parents and providing an ongoing support network. In many ways, this program can deflect children from going into foster care, allowing their parents to seek help in a supportive environment. Visit safe-families.org for more information.
Address systemic needs
Child abuse and neglect do not occur in a vacuum, and when you work to address the systemic needs that lead to abused and neglected children, you can be part of the solution. Advocate for greater mental health support in your community. Mentor teen parents or children who are high-risk for exposure to violence. Find ways to support those in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction.
Support foster children and foster families
Even if you’re not in a position to adopt or foster right now, there are lots of ways that you can support those that do. Take a meal to a family with a new placement or offer to make last-minute diaper/formula/emergency clothing runs. Knit or sew blankets for kids when they come into care. Offer to provide childcare for trainings or support group meetings.
The key here is that everyone can do something, you just need to find the intersection of what is needed and what you have to offer. Are you an artist? Offer to make something for family visit rooms. Do you play an instrument or coach a sport? Sponsor a foster child’s expenses for a sports team or offer music lessons. Are you a CPA? Study up on tax laws specific to foster and adoptive families and offer to teach a seminar and share your expertise. There is a way for everyone to get involved in some way; everyone can do something.
And when we all do our part, we can make a difference.