Since 2003 the number of children awaiting placement in the foster care system far outweighs the available homes. The situation is becoming dire in Louisiana, and is certainly becoming a concern for the country as a whole. “We don’t have enough parents to provide the types of services that our children really do need.” This statement from a recent article in The Times-Picayune addresses the immediacy of a problem facing many children and families.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human services, in 1980, approximately 300, 000 children that had spent some time in the foster care facility. By 2001, that number had increased to nearly 800,000 with 540,000 in the system at any given time. This figure is alarming. The drastic increase appears to stem from a variety of factors including emergence of widespread homelessness, substance abuse, mental health issues, increased parental incarceration rates, and the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
The average population of children in foster care is quite young, about 60% are under four years old. Of those, 25% are infants when they are placed into state care. Children of color make up the largest part of the foster care population, with the majority being African American and American Indian children. The longer these children remain in the system, the chances of them finding a loving home decreases; it is not uncommon for children to spend their entire lives “in the system,” only to be released when they are 18, without the skills to be successful.
Initially being a foster family can seem as the best solution for all involved. The state offers many programs and monetary benefits for helping to care for these children. However, there are many concerns that this short term solution does not address. One concern is the emotional distress that many of the children undergo as a direct result of being moved from place to place. Another is the environments that many of them have been and may continue to be exposed to can be quite harmful.
The Fost-Adopt process can be a lengthy and emotionally difficult road for the children and the foster families. Often reunification is stressed over any other options. This also does not allow for the families to bond and can result in confusion and psychological trauma for the children.
In order to evaluate what is best for the children, it is important to look beyond to current governmental options, towards a more permanent option, considering open adoption as a solution. Granted, adoption is not co-parenting and it is legally binding. However, for many biological parents with children removed from their homes and placed in foster care, open adoption has been a blessing. They know their children’s needs are prioritized and they no longer have to worry about their child’s safety.
The biological parents have the ability to choose the family and to decide how much contact they would like to have with their children. They can be available for their children if they choose, and may be able to answer questions and provide the child with information about their cultural heritage and medical background. Many families are open to exchanging letters and photos, as well as having visits and even creating an environment that could be seen as more of an “extended family.”
Open adoption can be an alternative for biological parents and adoptive families who are for looking for ways to help children. Open adoption does not mean saying goodbye forever, but it does allow the chance to build relationships and offer children a loving environment with the stability and the resources to grow up feeling successful and cherished. For more information on open adoption, visit http://www.openadoption.com/ or call