This article is probably going to evoke some emotions, so consider this your trigger warning. I imagine I’ll catch a certain amount of flack, but this topic is one that has been overlooked for far too long. It stems from a conversation I had with my husband a while back about how much more support is given to the fostering and adoption of pets than it is to children in this country. Since then I have seen, almost daily, examples of that in my Facebook feed. It’s not just there though; it’s all around us.
I’m not one of those people who hates animals. On the contrary, I have two dogs that I love, and they are a part of my family. My husband and I used to have a tiny farm. We raised chickens, ducks, quail, and ponds full of fish. Our family is full of animal lovers. My in-laws have so many pets, mostly from shelters, that I have trouble keeping up with them anymore. Seriously, I lost track of pet names about four dogs ago. I agree there is a need for animal adoption, and I highly recommend that people looking for a pet go to shelters rather than pet stores. I also recognize the need for pets to be spayed and neutered to avoid overpopulation, abuse, and neglect. That being said, our country would be a much better place if we helped our kids the way we help our pets.
For starters, pet adoption has some of the best marketing on the planet. If you type “adopt” into your Google search bar, the first two suggestions that popped up for me were “adopt a dog” and “adopt a pet.” If you type the same thing into the search bar on Facebook, the first suggestion is “adoptable dogs.” Pet adoptions are universally and unconditionally celebrated. It doesn’t even seem to matter that they are almost as much trouble as babies. Puppies pee on everything, wake you in the middle of the night, and chew up all your things. Older dogs bring along baggage from previous families. That might mean being scared of loud noises, not liking kids, or being sad for a period of time.
With the exception of the friends I have who have deep ties to the adoption community, all the shares I see on social media concerning adoption are heartfelt pleas on behalf of a pet that needs a home. Meanwhile, folks who adopt pets are hailed as heroes for rescuing the animals. On any given day in America, there are 443,000 kids in foster care. On average, children stay in foster care for two years. An even less fortunate 6% spend five years or more there. According to data from the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System, a nationally estimated 1,720 children died from abuse or neglect in the federal fiscal year 2017. That’s 11 percent more than in 2013. And these numbers don’t even speak to all the kids in the system who are abused and neglected every day and don’t die as a result. They need safe, stable homes even more than those adorably fluffy pets. So where is the disconnect? Is it because adopting a pet makes people feel good about themselves without as huge of a commitment as a child?
“Adopt, don’t shop” has become the basic slogan for shelter pets. Why aren’t we asking people to consider adoption before conceiving a child of their own? Probably because that sounds too bold and overreaching. Isn’t that what we are asking with pets though? We are pleading with families to adopt animals in need of a home rather than breed the pets we have. How is it any different? Put simply, it is more socially acceptable to adopt a pet than a child. With the adoption of a child comes all sorts of questions and judgments. Where did he come from? What about his parents? Are you sure you’re qualified? Do you know enough about parenting to not ruin him? Can you handle it financially? As if it’s really anyone’s business.
This is especially true when it comes to transracial families. I get the need to teach a child about history and culture, but first and foremost, the child needs a loving, safe home, no matter the race of the adoptive parents. Instead of bringing so much stigma to adoption, we should be supporting adoptive parents and celebrating the “rescue” from the system. I know adoptive parents would never use that term, but really that’s what it is. I’m sure that’s how the adoptees feel. They don’t want to age out of the system with no forever family.
One population throwing negativity and stigma on the adoption community with the force of a rocket launcher is the anti-adoption groups. They believe that adoption at its core is wrong. It is seen as a form of theft, whether the adoption was voluntary or not. It’s usually made up of adoptees who blame every bad thing that has ever happened in their life on their adoption. I am an adoptee, so I completely understand the emotions that are involved. However, with the exception of cases of abuse and neglect, I feel like the parents you end up with (biological or adoptive) are the luck of the draw. Your life’s success or failure is based on how you react and respond to that hand you were dealt with. Adoptees will deal with varying degrees of obstacles, but in the end, their lives are what they make them.
Another area of difference between child and pet adoptions is that often there are discounted or waived fees for pet adoption. Shelters run months here and there when their populations are large where they waive fees in order to raise adoption rates. You don’t find that in the adoption of a child. It’s true that it doesn’t cost much at all to adopt from foster care, but if you prefer a private adoption, you won’t get a discount there. Some parents who adopt are eligible for tax breaks, but that’s not the same thing. Plus, there are more charitable organizations that exist to help pets without homes than children.
There’s also the point of the general public’s defensiveness of pets. Let me tell you a story about my friend. She adopted a dog from a shelter. She had him for a few months. During that time, she took care of the adoption requirements and looked into training. Before the dog could begin training, he bit two of her children. One of the bites, to her toddler, was so bad it nearly required stitches. She stayed in communication with the shelter the whole time. They decided that as much as it hurt their hearts, it was time to return the dog to the shelter where it could be placed in a home without children.
When the shelter posted the dog back online for adoption, the public lost their minds. How dare my friend look out for her kids. It must have been her fault. She must have done something to that poor dog to make it bite. All the allegations were absolutely absurd and false. I only bring them up because if the situation had been different, they would have reacted differently. If it had been a child in foster care or a child who was newly adopted and he had been causing problems and hurting people, the adoptive parents wouldn’t have been to blame. The public would have said everything was the child’s fault. He must be broken or damaged.
Let’s consider another scenario. This goes more to the double standard of all of it. If a mother feels overwhelmed or for some reason can’t, or doesn’t want to, raise her child, then it’s generally acceptable for her to leave her baby at a fire station or hospital where the baby will be found and taken care of. To be fair, there are much worse places a child could be left. After a baby is left at a Safe Haven location, people generally just assume that there is a legitimate reason, and the mother didn’t have the support she needed. If a person did that with an animal, the pitchforks would come out. There would be all kinds of accusations and threats. “It was your fault in the first place because you didn’t have it fixed.” “You didn’t look hard enough to find a home for the pet.”
Rehoming fees are another example. Heaven forbid you place an ad online for free puppies or kittens. “Don’t you know people will take them for free to feed them to snakes and sharks?” “Don’t you know that big dogs are only taken for free so they can be in dog fights?” You “must” charge a rehoming fee if the animal is going to have any kind of decent life. And yet, many kids are abused, neglected, or killed at the hands of their foster families who are being paid to provide quality care. Where are the people who are so defensive of these animals online? Why aren’t they lining up to foster or adopt these kids if they are so worried about protection?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that we should stop helping animals. I would never say that. I just feel like if the general population (folks outside of the adoption community) put half as much passion into helping kids as they do helping pets, there would be a lot more children in their forever homes. Here’s a homework assignment: Count how many posts you see on social media in a 48-hour period asking you to adopt a pet. It’s a lot, isn’t it? More than you would have thought, huh? Now if you aren’t seeing just as many posts to help kids find homes, then you have work to do. Do a Google search to see what organization in your area handles adoption from foster care. Then go “like” or “follow” that organization’s page on social media. Every single time they post a photo and description of a child looking for a home, I want you to share it. Yes, every single time.
We have all seen what the power of social media can do. Let’s use it to help these kids. We owe them at least as much time and effort as we put into our pets, don’t you think? Personally, I think they are worth much more than that.
Here are some nationwide resources to get you started:
Adoption.com has a photolisting page that lists children who are available for adoption in every state. They even have an international photolisting page of children who are available for adoption as well.
The Heart Gallery of America is another wonderful place to get started. Their mission is “to facilitate and utilize the power of photography to capture the individuality and dignity of children living in foster care, in order to advocate for their permanency, raise public awareness about their needs, and obtain support to help meet those needs.” This gallery index can help you find kids in need in your area.
An additional resource is the National Foster Youth Institute. From their website, “For children and adolescents in foster care who cannot be reunited with their biological family, finding a new home with adoptive parents can be the best-case scenario. On any given day, over 100,000 of the more than 400,000 children in foster care in the U.S. are available for adoption. There are numerous public and private adoption agencies throughout the U.S. that work to find homes for foster children. Adoption is a great option for adults who want to experience the joy of raising a child or would like to provide a home for a child in need.”