Saturday, June 23, 2007

4,000 young people age out of the California foster care system each year

Program takes a personal approach with foster kids
Rooney, Julie. Enterprise, June 17, 2007.

They each started out as somebody's child.

Yet, every year more than 4,000 foster children in California turn 18 without a family to call their own. As they emancipate out of the foster care system, more than half leave with no high school diploma, no job and no place to live.

Sierra Adoption Services, a nonprofit agency in the great-er Sacramento Area, has one goal: Find a family for every waiting child. It's a task that involves finding permanent placement for not just babies, but older children, many of whom have experienced neglect and abuse in their short lives.

In 1992, the organization tried something new. They would put a face to the problem. They launched “Capitol Kids Are Waiting,” an exhibit on display in the rotunda of the state Capitol in downtown Sacramento that featured photos and biographies of 16 foster children. And an amazing thing happened. Within two months, all 16 children were adopted.

With the success of “Capitol Kids,” the agency began searching for other ways to share the stories and photos of foster kids.

“It's phenomenally effective to be able to make the individual children real, rather than making them just a statistic,” said Gail Johnson, Sierra's executive director.

Johnson recently approached The Enterprise and asked if we would help. And so today we begin “Waiting Child,” a monthly story that features foster children in need of permanent families. They are kids like today's featured waiting children, Jordan and LaRoysha, typical teenage girls in search of something most children never think about - an ordinary family life.

Displaying photos of foster children can come across as exploitive to some. But Johnson emphasizes that the children (who will be at least 11 years old) give their consent to be featured and are at the center of the planning process. They determine how their story will be told. While Yolo County foster children may be featured in other regions, they won't appear in The Enterprise, which could be an embarrassment to them.

Waiting no more
John and Mary's children are happy, well-adjusted kids. A year ago, John and Mary (fictitious names to protect the identity of their children) adopted a sibling set who had spent almost two years in foster care, shuffled from family to family.

The Davis couple say they always planned to adopt children. John grew up in a home where fostering children was common practice. Mary's family at one time considered adopting. While they weren't opposed to the idea of having a biological child, they wanted to make a difference for a child in need.

“Whatever life you can give these children is far better than what they would have gotten from the system,” John said.

Both feel even stronger today that adoption was the right choice, but caution that the transition is never easy.

“It's going to be difficult, but in a way if you look at the lives of these children you are there to go through these difficult times with them,” Mary added.

John and Mary take advantage of the agency's ongoing counseling services which are designed to support these new and often fragile families. There are numerous options, including sibling and parent support groups, and even a teen class called “Family Bound” that teaches children how to be part of a family - something many foster children need to learn.

While various services are offered during the adoption procedures, post-adoption services are also offered with various funding sources picking up the tab.

Families are eligible to receive an adoption subsidy to help with the cost of raising the child until he or she reaches the age of 18. All children are also covered by Medi-Cal insurance. As for costs to adopt a foster child, the program is completely free.

Changing the law
Even with programs like Waiting Child, the harsh reality is that not all foster children will find a permanent placement. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., is doing her part to help foster children who “age out” of the system at 18. In May, she introduced the Foster Care Continuing Opportunities Act, legislation that would provide federal funding to states to continue providing essential foster care services, such as food, housing and legal services to youths over the age of 18.

The idea is to help these young adults transition from childhood to adulthood at a more gradual and appropriate pace.

“We must do more for these young adults who deserve much better,”
Boxer said in a written statement.

Boxer's legislation would allow states to access federal funding to match state and county funds to provide foster care payments and related administrative costs for foster youths 18 to 21, in the same fashion as youths under age 18.

It also would give states the option to offer foster care services for older youths and allow the youths to voluntarily elect to remain in foster care after the age of 18.

The hope is that the extended support not only will help these youths avoid homelessness but increase their chances of going on to college.

Exploring adoption
Is adoption in your future? The process begins with an application and home study, which take about three months. In addition to researching your history to ensure the child will be well cared for, Sierra Adoption works with the family to find the best fit.

“We want to find the right children for the families that we work for,” Johnson explained. “By the end of the home study process, we'll have a pretty good idea.”

To learn more about foster adoption, call Sierra Adoption Services at (916) 368-5114 or the California Department of Social Services at (916) 574-1333. To learn about some of the children who are seeking homes, visit


Post a Comment

<< Home