What do you remember about your 18th birthday? A sense of freedom? A feeling that big things lay ahead?
What allowed many of us to dream big and pursue goals as young adults was the strong foundation that started with our families.
Simple things like knowing you had a table to sit down to at Thanksgiving, or someone to call in a time of crisis, provided the security to build a productive life.
A loving, permanent relationship with a parent is at the heart of that security, but right now, more than 700 children in Virginia are at risk of leaving childhood without this powerful benefit.
“Every single child deserves a loving, trusting adult in their life,” says Laura Ash-Brackley, chief programs officer for Children’s Home Society of Virginia.
THE NEED IS GREAT
Children’s Home Society works to build strong, permanent relationships for Virginia’s at-risk youth.
A major piece of that work is educating families about the realities of adopting children out of foster care before they age out of the system at 18 and supporting families who choose this path.
In Virginia, approximately 500 children age out of the foster care system each year. They start adult lives without knowing what a trusting, loving relationship with an adult looks like.
These children are at a much higher risk for incarceration, homelessness, substance abuse and domestic violence. Fewer than 1 in 6 of them will graduate from high school.
Finding a permanent family before a child’s 18th birthday can re-write that story.
A SPECIAL ROLE
Ash-Brackley makes clear that adopting pre-teen and teenaged children from foster care is very different from adopting a baby.
CHS’s programs help families honestly explore the process and equip them with skills, realistic expectations and the knowledge that a big part of their job will be adjusting to the unexpected.
The opportunity is tremendous.
“To be able to become that trusting parent of a child who has had all the other adults in their life fail them is an incredible thing,” Ash-Brackley said. “It’s amazing to see how kids change physically when they get into their forever families. They feel stable, they feel secure, they will grow several inches, their whole demeanor will change.”
THE DIFFERENCE OF A LIFETIME
For some, it can be a mindset shift to consider adopting a pre-teen or teen versus a younger child. Ash-Brackley encourages people to see the bigger picture.
“The time that you raise a child is relatively short,” she notes. “The time that your child is an adult and you’re still parenting is more of a lifetime. Even though you may not have been there for their first steps or their first tooth, you can be the first person to be in the audience for their high school awards ceremony.”
She points out that many people don’t consider adopting children out of foster care because they’ve been misinformed.
They may think it’s expensive, but adoption fees are low, and various funds, subsidies and tax credits can help offset the cost of a child’s care and college tuition.
They may think they need to own a home or be married, neither of which is required.
And while children who have been in foster care have experienced trauma, and do require a different parenting approach, the stereotype that foster kids are out of control is misguided.
“These kids are in foster care through no fault of their own,” Ash-Brackley emphasizes.
CHS has experience helping families work through the challenges that can arise during and after the adoption process.
Ash-Brackley encourages families to learn more if they think adopting from foster care is a role they can play.
To get started call Children’s Home Society of Virginia at 804-353-0191.