More than half the states across the nation have tuition assistance programs for youth in care and those who have recently aged out of the system. To add another layer of support, nearly every state uses federal and state funding to offer extended foster care until the age of 21. Yet, even with these programs and funding in place, only 46 percent of youth in care will earn a high school diploma, with less than three percent receiving a bachelor’s degree.
In 2004, nearly 23,000 children were adopted from foreign countries. Since then, many of these countries, including Russia and Ethiopia, have put an end to international adoptions. The result is just 5,400 children have been adopted from places outside the United States in 2016. With fewer international children available, a rise in adoptions from foster care throughout the United States seemed imminent.
However, while the number of children in care across the country rose by more than 10 percent between 2012 and 2016, including a 15 percent increase in children waiting to be adopted, the adoption rate failed to keep pace. What makes these statistics more troubling is that nearly half of those waiting to be adopted are legally free.
According to a University of Chicago report, nearly one-third of the nation’s foster children haven’t graduated high school or earned their General Education Development (GED) Certificate. In an effort to raise high school graduation rates President Obama signed the “Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)” in 2015.
ESSA replaced President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and put an emphasis on improving student performance while setting a national academic standard. It also addressed the unique educational needs of foster children with several mandates, such as keeping children in the school they were enrolled in prior to entering care or moving to a new foster home and providing transportation to and from school.
While the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges legalized same-sex marriage and gave same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexual couples, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community continues to face challenges that heterosexual families do not. Among the most contested issues is whether foster care agencies can deny placing children based on the foster parents’ sexual orientation.
National LGBT Adoption Laws
Two opposing bills have been sent to Congress to determine whether faith-based foster care agencies are required to place children with families who don’t share their religious beliefs. LGBT rights advocates have proposed the Every Child Deserves a Family Act. It would prevent agencies receiving federal funding from denying foster care placements or adoption to members of the LGBT community and allow the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to withhold Title IV funding to states that don’t comply. The other bill in Congress proposed by religious advocates, the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act, would protect agencies from losing state funding for only providing service to those who share their religious beliefs.
Whether it’s something trivial like tying a shoe or something major like choosing a college, most children have their parents to turn to whenever they need help. However, for kids in foster care, that parental support is often not there. In the case of Sophia Orama, a New Jersey Foster Care (NJFC) Scholar, she had to be the one providing support.
With an alcoholic mother and an absentee father, Orama was forced to become the caretaker of the household. “I stayed with her [my mother] for many years because I was the one that was taking care of her,” Orama said. “It wasn’t until the time that I was 16 and I was a junior in high school and I was like, ‘I got to start thinking about myself,’ because college was coming up.”