What’s the key to America’s future? While the answer may at first seem complex, it is really quite simple. One of the greatest ways we can strengthen our nation is by focusing on our next generation, helping our children achieve their God-given potential.
Without strong parents and mentors, we see too many promising lives fall short of realizing their dreams and purpose. Every time that happens, it’s not just a single, personal tragedy; it’s a national tragedy as well.
While we often celebrate the wonderful teachers, doctors and mentors who help our youth, we must not forget the countless families who adopt or become foster parents. They are true angels who want to see the very best for our children, especially kids who have been abused or neglected and are helpless with nowhere else to turn.
Unfortunately, too many children leave foster care at age 18 without being adopted. In Ohio, we are seeing as many as 1,400 children leave foster care each year without being adopted. That means they don’t have a strong mom or dad – and too often lack the family network – that can be critical to helping overcome life’s challenges. In too many cases, those young people are arrested at an early age, become pregnant before turning 20, live below the poverty level or even become homeless.
In Ohio, we are tackling this problem on many fronts. We partnered with the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption to hire specialized, child-focused recruiters whose sole mission is to find adoptive families for older children in foster care. They develop relationships with the adults in each child’s life – teachers, coaches, religious leaders, friends, even former foster parents – and seek out opportunities for adoption. Research shows that children served this way are up to three times more likely to be adopted.
To help make this work, Ohio has committed nearly $10 million to help the Dave Thomas Foundation hire and train adoption recruiters to work with children between the ages of 9 and 17 who have been in foster care for more than two years and help them find good families and loving homes.
In tandem with this effort, we launched an adoption incentive program to help community caseworkers match children in foster care with adoptive families and help assist them through the process. And, just last year we began establishing regular roundtables with caseworkers and involved citizens who could focus on “busting barriers” to find safe, permanent placements for foster children.
Finding adoptive families takes time, and finalizing an adoption is an even more time-consuming process. But, the end result can be life changing for the child and future generations. We are pleased to see Ohio’s new efforts paying off with hundreds of foster children being either adopted or matched with a potential adoptive family. Finally, these children will have the loving families they deserve to support them when they turn 18 and go off to college, enlist in the military, or start their careers, and they will have the support system they need and deserve as they become adults and parents themselves.
For those who want to know how they can help or help recognize National Foster Care Month this May: think about adopting a foster child, recommend it to some of your friends or donate to groups or faith-based organizations that support adoption and foster care. I truly believe that there can be a safe and loving home for each and every child in foster care, where the child can thrive and help achieve their God-given abilities.