Former waiting youth who were not adopted reach out to CAP in desperation.
-Melanie Schmidt, LMSW
“When are you coming to visit me? I’m lonely.”… “I don’t have anywhere to go; do you think one of my old foster families will take me in?”… “Will you adopt me?”… “I can’t support myself or my baby”.
These are examples of the heart breaking calls Children Awaiting Parents (CAP) receives from youth formerly listed on our waiting child photolisting who have aged out of the foster care system without an adoptive family.
CAP is often the last hope for foster youth who have waited years to find a family after all typical adoption resources have been explored. CAP youth have usually come into foster care at a later age after being a victim of abuse or neglect and may have been bounced from home to home or spent time in group homes. Our waiting child photolisting offers children a chance to connect with adoptive families who will help them transition into adulthood and provide life-long love and guidance.
But what happens to the youth on CAP’s website if they have not found a family by their 18th birthday? Each year, about 20% of the 100,000 children who have been legally freed for adoption in the United States age out of foster care at age 18 or 21[i] and many are dangerously unprepared for independent life.
Working as CAP’s Wendy’s Wonderful Kids Recruiter from 2008-2013, I was humbled to help find permanent families for youth who feared that they would never be adopted because of their age. When an adoptive family or a birth family member came forward to claim them, I witnessed the transformative power of hope. I knew that they were finally on their way to healing with the help of a forever family.
Unfortunately, not all the children I worked with found families. Many of them who aged out of foster care at age 18 or 21 still reach out to me in desperate situations.
Sarah[ii], a former foster youth, was promised that her foster family would be her forever family, but due to factors beyond her control, they were not able to provide a lifelong commitment. Sarah spent time in group homes until she turned 18 and left the facilities to live with a boyfriend she hoped could provide the sense of family she was missing. The relationship was short lived and now she is stranded in an unfamiliar state with no resources or connections. Sarah’s developmental delays and lack of preparation for independent living have increased her vulnerability to additional abuse and dangerous situations. Now age 19, Sarah calls me on a regular basis asking for help to find a family that can take her in, help her meet her basic needs and provide a sense of belonging.
Sarah is not alone in her struggle to establish stability after leaving foster care on her own. Without a lifelong connection to a supportive adult, national trends predict that 25% of youth who age out of foster care will experience homelessness, 30% incarceration, 84% will have a child 2-4 years after leaving foster care, 30% will become dependent on the system, and 51% will be unemployed[iii][iv].
More Statistics from the Casey Foundation:
Foster youth who spend a great deal of time in group homes or experience multiple moves are at even higher risk because they have missed out on the guidance and support of a consistent parental figure. Frequent moves also contribute to foster youth falling behind in school and not being able to graduate high school, get a drivers license, or learn a marketable skill which makes it very difficult to gain stable employment.
Foster youth experienced trauma in early childhood, then the instability of foster care, then a lack of education, and now, without a dependable adult in their life, they are very likely to repeat the patterns that lead to their own placement in foster care.
There are so many other stories, like Sarah’s, of former CAP youth in crisis after they age out. The desperate calls break our hearts and motivate the CAP staff to work even harder to secure families for waiting youth. One of our former youth has already lost parental rights to her first child and is now struggling to care for her second. Two others are in adult group homes without a family to celebrate holidays or visit them. Another spent many years homeless, hopping from one friend’s couch to another, and was in and out of jail. Many we have lost track of, but we know that, without an education, skills to live independently or a connection to a family, they are likely facing poverty and countless other challenges all on their own.
Families strengthen our entire community, one child at a time. Families are not only there to support a child until age 18, they also provide emotional support and guidance through every life stage. As adults, we often don’t realize how we continue to need our families after age 18. Families help young people (especially those who missed out on parenting during their childhood) face the numerous challenges of becoming an independent adult. Families can offer guidance with finding a job, purchasing a first car, finding an apartment, building healthy peer relationships and applying to colleges or trade schools. Families can provide a home base where young people turn for emotional support, a place to go for the holidays, and, one day, grandparents for their children. CAP believes that all youth deserve and need a family.
Together, we can break the cycle of poverty and brokenness for foster youth and future generations of their children by uniting them with the lifelong support of an adoptive family.
How You Can Help:
· Consider adopting a child from foster care. (Click here to view our waiting children)
· Mentor a waiting child or a young adult that has aged out of the system.
· Make a meaningful donation that will help CAP find more families for waiting foster youth.
· Help CAP get the word out about the need for families. (Share CAP’s facebook posts, feature waiting child profiles in your organization’s publication, set up a Heart Gallery photo display of waiting youth in community locations, or ask CAP for more ideas!)
· Host a fundraiser for CAP or attend CAP’s events. (ask us about fun and easy fundraising ideas!)
For more information about these opportunities, give us a call: 585-232-5110 or 1-888-835-8802 or send us an email: firstname.lastname@example.org
[i] AFCARS 2014 Report http://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/cb/afcarsreport22.pdf
[ii] Name changed for confidentiality.
[iv] The Pew Charitable Trusts. (2007) Time for Reform: Ageing Out and On Their Own