By Jerry Milner, Associate Commissioner
Youth who have spent time in foster care have diverse and valuable experiences that child welfare and adoption professionals can use to help improve and shape their processes and practices. Whether they have reunified with their birth family, achieved permanency with an adoptive family or launched into adulthood independently, these young people can share their stories and perspectives to help educate the community as well as provide input into ways to strengthen recruitment strategies, trainings, and permanency efforts. This year's National Adoption Month theme, "In Their Own Words: Lifting Up Youth Voices," emphasizes the importance of incorporating the voice and input of young people to help child welfare professionals strengthen recruitment strategies, train families and staff and support more effective permanency practices.
For the past eighteen years, the Children’s Bureau has supported a National Adoption Month website to connect readers with adoption resources. An important feature of this year's National Adoption Month website is a video gallery that profiles youth and their experiences with foster care and adoption. Their inspiring stories spotlight essential issues for older teens in foster care and for prospective adoptive families. You can listen to Xavier and Yves, both adopted at age 18, describe what adoption has meant to them. Both confide that becoming part of a supportive adoptive family is the only thing they ever wanted. Another, Julius, describes being surrounded by people "who love and care about you" as "the greatest feeling in the world." Yves urges prospective adoptive parents to avoid forming a judgment based on a youth's official records. "Don't judge a kid by his files," he implores, explaining that prospective adoptive families should get to know a young person before forming such opinions—otherwise they may miss out on someone special. He also shares that "when you adopt a teenager, you are giving them a chance at life." Cora urges prospective adoptive families to "take the plunge" and trust that they are up to the challenge of adoption.
The Children’s Bureau in partnership with the Ad Council, AdoptUSKids and Forsman & Bodenfors recently released new public service advertisements (PSAs) to highlight the importance of adopting teens from foster care by sharing the many “firsts” families may experience when adopting a teen from foster care. Currently, about one in five children waiting to be adopted are teenagers, and approximately 43 percent of children actively photolisted on AdoptUSKids are between the ages of 15 and 18. The PSAs direct audiences to visit AdoptUSKids.org or call 1-888-200-4005 (English) or 1-877-236-7831 (Spanish) to receive information about foster care and the adoption process.
During National Adoption Month and all year long, we invite you to encourage and support the youth you know to share their voices—whether they have formed lifelong bonds through the gift of adoption or are actively seeking or considering their permanency options—to learn from their experiences and inform and improve child welfare practices. We also encourage you to visit your local adoption agency to learn more about mentoring and adoption opportunities. Visit the National Adoption Month website to discover new opportunities for engaging and promoting permanency for the youth in your area. Social media is also a great resource to Spread the Word about National Adoption Month and the Presidential Proclamation. Empowering youth voices can strengthen child welfare systems by making practices more effective and sustainable - as well as strengthen leadership and communication skills of young people. The website provides resources and tips to help professionals support youth in sharing their voice and includes several resources for youth to help them remain engaged in their community.