A Mother's Day gift for America: support services for adoptive families
While we've made big progress in placing kids in adoptive families, we've done little to provide post-adoption support to these children and their families. When we don't provide such services, we guarantee that some families will dissolve, at great cost to children, parents, and taxpayers.
Child welfare professionals have become increasingly proficient at finding enduring, loving homes for children who need them. Adoptions from foster care have soared during the last couple of decades, to about 58,000 last year alone. The increase of children adopted into the US from abroad skyrocketed during the same period, roughly tripling to over 20,000 annually before a decline began in 2005.Skip to next paragraph
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While we have made significant progress in the realm of child placement, however, we have done embarrassingly little in an area that virtually every mental-health and child-welfare professional agrees is of nearly equal or even greater importance: providing post-adoption services and supports that would greatly enhance the prospects for these children and families to succeed.
Adoption professionals and policymakers have learned enormous amounts about how to find families for children. They often do it imperfectly and with too much bureaucracy, or with too much attention to financial gain, or with too little understanding of or regard for the consequences of allowing young, vulnerable human beings to linger in institutions or in temporary care.
The question of how we can find a family for every child who needs one – through reunification, domestic adoption, and other models – is a vital one, and we need to keep getting better at it. And the question of how we can resuscitate intercountry adoption is not only vital; it is urgent.
Thanks to a growth in good research and improved policies and practices, however, adoption professionals and policymakers are getting better at it – even for children who are older, who suffer from disabilities, or who have other special needs. Indeed, I’m confident that when we get to the day that budgets and international treaties and government regulations allow us to do so, we will move even greater numbers of children into the arms of parents who will work mightily to nurture them and help them thrive.
The cost of not supporting families post-adoption
Studies are unambiguous about the multiple, complex deleterious effects on children of institutionalization (orphanages), especially for prolonged times. Research is equally clear about the negative impact on children of temporary living situations (foster care), especially when they are shuttled from one home to another for extended periods. In other words, many of the boys and girls for whom we have gotten so proficient at finding new families need mental health professionals, educational supports, and other help in order to heal. And, because love does not in fact conquer all, their new families need resources and services to enable them to help their children.
When state and federal governments do not provide such assistance, they guarantee that some of these families will dissolve, while others will be relegated to lives of constant struggle, marital discord, sibling distress, school problems, unnerving trauma, and, sometimes, violence. It’s a tough message to hear at this time of strained budgets, but the simple fact is that the human toll of not providing supports – or of cutting them, as many states are doing today – is incalculable.