Congressional priorities: The future of our nation’s foster care system

Earlier this month, voters turned out to voice their opinion on the current state of our country. Issues of foreign policy and ISIS, the economy, health care and immigration were discussed at length. Largely ignored were the issues faced by our country’s children. With more than 100,000 children waiting in the foster care system for adoptive families, a record number homeless and an alarming increasing number of children in this country going hungry, it is time to make positive, permanent changes on behalf of children.

Two child welfare priorities need to be top of mind for policymakers: children continue to age out of care at alarming rates, and for those who are adopted, we continue to fail to provide adequate resources, services and connections for families in need of assistance once the adoption is finalized and to keep the family intact.

As members of 114th Congress begin their initiation and develop their policy agendas, it is my hope that they will join the Congressional Coalition on Adoption (CCAI) and the Congressional Foster Care Caucus to be a part of the solution. These caucuses work with organizations across the country that are dedicated to increasing the awareness of the vulnerable children living in the foster care system, addressing critical policy needs, tackling child welfare finance reform, and elevating foster care and adoption evidence-based best practices for our children and youth.The First Focus Campaign for Children recently recognized 100 Members of Congress for leadership on issues important to children during the 113th Congress.  These Members have voiced their dedicated support for our country’s most vulnerable children and families, introduced or supported legislation to meet children’s needs and simply made an effort to understand and elevate children as a Congressional priority.  They understand – like many in our country – that our children are the future.  And now, with a new Congress in January, it is time to encourage every member of Congress to be a champion for children in their communities and across the nation.

Last year, more than 23,000 children aged out of the foster care system without families. They were “emancipated” from the state, the only support they had was that of the government letting them go. We made a promise to the hundreds of thousands of children in the foster care system that the day they were permanently separated from their families, we would find them new ones. We are failing at a high rate – not because lack of trying, there are thousands of dedicated and skilled social workers, adoption recruiters and agencies who have devoted their lives to care for these children, but because we lack the political leadership needed to drive the necessary policy, practice and financing reforms.

We must, with the urgency that childhood demands, make significant and scalable changes to the foster care system to ensure that our country’s children are not slipping through the cracks of an overwhelmed system.  We need advocates and leaders in the 114th United States Congress who will make it their business to drive change so that this country stops failing on its promise to our children.  A promise that every child will be cherished, safe and able to thrive in a family and a home.

Soronen is the president and CEO of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. Since 2001, she has worked to find adoptive families for each of the more than 134,000 waiting children in the U.S. and Canadian foster care systems. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

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