As the busy holiday season quickly approaches, many of us are debating our plans for Thanksgiving Day. "Hmm…should we go to my parents house this year or have them visit us? Can we just relax, watch all the football games, and avoid Black Friday this year?”
While many would call these "first-world” problems, as a former CPS caseworker, I call these "non foster-care” problems. Thanksgiving is more than turkey, pecan pie, football, and Black Friday sales—it’s about a place to call home. Unfortunately, many young people in and out of the foster care system do not experience the joy of celebrating the holiday season with loved ones—and they’re left feeling broken and alone.
Last year, there were over 6,500 children in our state’s foster care system waiting for a "forever home,” and over 600 teenagers aged out of the Texas foster care system without ever having found a permanent home or family. Statistics show that foster youth, as a group, struggle more than other young adults and experience high rates of homelessness, joblessness, and poverty.
Over the years, many policies have passed that promote the adoption and permanent placement of older children in loving and stable homes. November is National Adoption Month and this year’s efforts focus on our nation's population of older youth in foster care who need loving, permanent families. Our state officials and policymakers have made a child’s path to permanency and out of the foster care system a priority.
However, putting these kids on solid ground is about more than just getting them adopted; it’s also about supporting their social and emotional well-being and wrapping long-term supports around adoptive families. Legal permanency through adoption and relative placement is not always the answer for these youth, but all foster youth need relational permanency -- a lifelong connection to a caring and loving adult. We thank the Texas Legislature for making foster care services and supports, including post-adoption, a priority this interim. We look forward to working with policymakers to improve supports and services to transitioning foster youth, ensure that adoptions are successful, and make sure children do not re-enter the child welfare system.
We all have an obligation to these children—they are our children. Like those of us who had a safe and permanent system of support provided by our family members, youth involved in the CPS system need the same network of individuals and caring adults that will help them overcome their struggles in foster care, find hope for a better future, and, most importantly, have a place to call home.
What YOU can do for older youth:
· Learn about the foster/adopt program for older youth by visiting this website.
· Become a mentor for an older youth in foster care. Check out this program in Austin, Texas.
· Call or visit state legislators’ offices to talk about services for transitioning youth in your community.
What policymakers can do:
· Invest in prevention to ensure children can thrive with their family of origin instead of entering the child welfare system.
· Promote kinship placements by providing additional funding and support to kinship caregivers.
· Increase funding for post-adoption services to ensure older youth in care have success in an adoptive home.
· Improve services for children while they are in foster care and when they need housing as they age out of foster care, a priority identified in both the House and Senate interim charges.
As we celebrate Thanksgiving with our loved ones, remember we all have the opportunity to ensure more Texas youth can celebrate the next Thanksgiving with a family of their own.