By Karen Franklin
The number of African American youth in the child welfare system continues to increase due to abuse and neglect in their family of origin. This is exhibited by the statistically significant difficulty in finding homes for African American children ages eight and older. This growth has prompted the Ramsey County Permanent Families Recruitment Project to seek out new recruitment methods to increase the likelihood that African American youth would be able to find permanent families.
More than half of all youth waiting to be adopted are children of color. Most of these children are African American. They not only suffer by being overrepresented in the pool of waiting children, they also suffer from families in the African American communities not coming forward in sufficient numbers to adopt them.
Youth who age out of foster care without a permanent family have more negative outcomes than their peers with respect to employment, education, housing, early pregnancy, involvement in the criminal justice system, and dependence on public assistance.
The outcomes for youth who age out of foster care reveal that one in four will be incarcerated within the first two years after they leave care. Over one-fifth will become homeless at some point after 18 years old.
Of youth who age out of care and are over the age of 25, less than three percent earn their college degrees, compared with 28 percent of the general population. (Source: Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth)
In addition, one-third have no health insurance, double the national rate, and one-third have incomes near or below the poverty level, a figure three times that of the national poverty rate. Youth who age out of care are three times more likely to be unemployed and out of school than youth who have not been in care. (Source: Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth)
While youth wait for permanent families to be found, these youth often live in or with foster parents, relatives, group homes or institutions. Many wait a long time. On average, these youth have been in foster care for more than two and a half years. Once their parents’ parental rights have been terminated and they are free to be adopted, they wait on average nearly another year and a half before joining an adoptive family.
In addition, there are misperceptions about older teens being adopted, especially considering the severity of needs of the youth and that children of color are hard to place. It is well established that youth who reach adulthood while in foster care are significantly more likely than other youth to face life challenges related to their physical and emotional well-being.
There is difficulty in finding enough interested and able families to adopt waiting youth. The two most frequent concerns are finding homes for children with special needs (i.e., older youth, sibling groups, children with behavioral problems and disabilities) and finding homes to reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of the children in foster care.
We need community members and organizations to partner with us to build strong networks to spread the word about the large number of African American children, especially older youth, who are in need of a permanent family. You all know the old adage “It takes a village to raise a child.” As a member of the village, we are calling on you to help support the children waiting for a forever family.
Our children need families to make a lifelong commitment to them so they have a chance to grow into healthy adults and community members. While you are socializing with family and friends during the upcoming summer months, make a commitment to mention the Permanent Families Recruitment Project.
Karen Franklin is a permanency specialist with the Ramsey County Permanent Families Recruitment Project. She welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.