Families that go through the process of adoption come in all shapes and sizes and all are worth celebrating. However, some children wait much longer to be adopted than others. As Texas continues to face a shortage of foster care placements and adoptive families for children who have been removed from their homes, it is important to recognize that these challenges are exacerbated by the long periods of time that older children spend in the system.
The shortage of placements in the foster care system has led to an increase in the number of children sleeping in state office buildings and similar settings. This placement shortage has resulted from several factors which can include a hesitancy among prospective foster families to bring children into their homes during a pandemic and funding and staff shortages at child-serving organizations. The Texas Legislature recently approved $90 million to create more placements statewide, but the problem will not be solved overnight.
According to data from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, children over the age of 13 wait about three years on average between the time that their parental rights are terminated and when they are adopted or age out of care. By comparison, the average time from termination to adoption for children under 5 years old is about eight months.
These figures illustrate what those of us who work in the space see regularly: Older children are more difficult to place with foster and adoptive families. That means they often spend more time in foster care, perhaps moving from one home to the next, which can compound the trauma they’ve already experienced.
In addition, child-placing agencies often struggle to find homes for sibling groups. Joining a family with a sibling provides a child with an additional sense of stability, as well as a stronger connection to their personal and cultural history. But because families often want to bring one child at a time into their homes, sibling groups can sometimes be more difficult to place.
There is no doubt that we in Texas need more families willing to step up and provide care, and perhaps adoption, for older children and for groups of siblings. The challenge, however, does not rest solely on the shoulders of the families who feel compelled to bring children into their homes. Instead, the call to action is on all of us — from government agencies to philanthropic organizations to nonprofits in the child welfare space — to provide the support, resources and services that families need when they welcome children with higher needs.
We must make investments in the comprehensive services needed by children who have experienced trauma. In order for more adoptions to be successful, it is important for the state and for community organizations to provide all forms of support for adoptive families. Families who adopt not only have financial needs, but the children who come into their lives often need mental health counseling and treatment, as well as academic support and other services that can help bring stability and normalcy to their lives.
We must also work to support families in ways that prevent children from coming into foster care in the first place. This is why DePelchin Children’s Center and other child-serving organizations work to not only provide foster and adoption programs but also offer classes and other resources that help adults learn to become better parents. Right now in San Antonio, for example, we support dozens of families with services that range from helping them meet basic needs, to the proper use of car seats, to making sure they have ways to build healthy connections with each other through items as simple as board games for family play. These types of supports, which a number of community organizations provide, help keep families intact so that foster care and adoption do not become necessary.
As we celebrate National Adoption Month throughout November, we should remember and recognize that children of all ages need loving homes. There is no question that older children who have experienced trauma and spent longer amounts of time in foster care can exhibit challenging behaviors. Rather than turning our eyes away from them, we all have an imperative to see how we can provide the care and support needed by these children and the families who choose to care for them.