Families for Youth Must be a Moral Imperative in Adoption Month and Every Month

Jennifer Pokempner, Child Welfare Policy Director, Juvenile Law Center; Jennifer Rodriguez, Executive Director, Youth Law Center,
Woman hugging adolescent child.

As part of National Adoption Month, we’re producing a special blog series focused on older youth in foster care and the importance of family and permanency.

“Justice for children is in loving parenting.” –Jennifer Rodriguez

November marks National Adoption Month – a month we must come and leave with a sense of urgency and purpose. The theme of this year’s Adoption Month is Teens Need Families, No Matter What. These words ring true in every way. Large numbers of youth in the child welfare system are waiting to be reunified with or find family. This need can be quantified, but it also is one that exceeds a numerical value.

Children need families to heal and to grow. Every child deserves a family to have a fair shot at health, happiness, and success in life. Development science and common experience tell us loving parenting is the most important intervention for children in care. When we do not provide youth what they need to grow and achieve their potential we not only fail them, but also put them at great risk.    

Imagine growing up without family. Not just without your family, but without any family or reliable support system. For most of us that is difficult to fathom. How would we be where we are without that support? How many experiences would we have missed out on?

Now, do something even more difficult. Imagine the experiences of children deprived of support, nurturing, and connection. We universally recognize this lack of connection as devastating to adults; it is even more so to the children deprived of consistency, of people telling them that they love them regularly, praising them for the strengths, and being there for them when they make mistakes. For youth in the child welfare system, being parented is not just about getting a good start to launch out into the world - it is also vital to the healing that must occur to recover from trauma, whether that be from abuse and neglect or of removal from the family. 

This reality—of not being parented and nurtured by consistent, caring adults—is the reality for large numbers of youth in the child welfare system. In 2015, there were over 12,000 youth between the ages of 15 and 18 in foster care waiting to find permanent homes where they can have the support of family as they grow up. We fail many of them. Over 20,000 youth leave the foster care system every year without achieving this goal and are asked to navigate a challenging world alone with little support. As a society we have accepted that thousands of young people live with a reality that we would find devastating for ourselves and our own children. 

A moral imperative is a strongly felt principle that compels people to act. If making sure youth are parented and connected with caring adults is vital to their health, well-being, and future, we must create a child welfare system together that is laser-focused on strengthening existing supportive relationships and developing and nurturing new ones. It is these strong and nurturing relationships that must be the child welfare system’s primary intervention and goal. Our communities, courts, and agencies must work relentlessly to nurture, support and partner with the birth, foster and adoptive families who provide our youth loving parenting daily. In such a system, adoption is easily achievable, as is reunification, guardianship, and other relationships with caring adults

Our charge in Adoption Month is to use this moral imperative to transform our foster care systems to ensure every youth has the love and foundation they need - that we would demand for our own children. This type of system transformation is both possible and urgently needed. Let’s pledge that our charge in Adoption Month and every month is to transform our foster care systems to ensure every youth has the love and foundation for life they deserve.