Every child and youth who enters the U.S. foster care system should leave with a safe and permanent family to a place they call home. Our priority must always be to prevent foster care in the first place and then support their return home quickly and safely. For those unable to return home we must look at all barriers that stand in the way.
We have much work to do.
Voice for Adoption (VFA) was established in 1996 to provide a permanent mechanism to shape the public debate regarding permanency for children in the U.S. foster care system. We exist to advocate, educate, and collaborate with Congress members, policymakers, partner organizations, agencies, and individuals to advance federal policies that promote and sustain permanence for children and youth in foster care. Historically, we have focused primarily on adoptions from foster care. However, our world is changing, and VFA, to stay relevant, is changing with it.
We have redefined our mission to expand our advocacy to permanency beyond adoption, emphasizing the importance of kinship and relational permanence. We also acknowledge that tens of thousands of youth age out of the system each year without a family. Independent living services are not enough. These young people also need the security of lifelong families, and our approach has the responsibility to facilitate that through relational permanency when legal permanency is not an option. As we move forward in this work, we are committed to elevating the voices of those with lived experience at all levels of our decision making and advocacy.
Address systemic racism in the foster care system, the needs of LGBTQ youth and families, critical funding needs, and the elimination of other bureaucratic barriers to permanency.
VFA has provided recommendations to the Biden-Harris transition team and urge other elected officials, policymakers, members of the child welfare and adoption communities, and the public to join us in pushing for these changes. While we have a more comprehensive policy plan, we have outlined specific actions that should be taken on day one or embedded in the new administration’s child welfare agenda in the first 100 days. Our recommendations address systemic racism in the foster care system, the needs of LGBTQ youth and families, critical funding needs, and the elimination of other bureaucratic barriers to permanency.
These are not partisan issues. Children and families are a nonpartisan issue. Children and families should receive care, assistance and supports suited to their needs and well-being, not those of any agency or organization. Discrimination of any kind should not be tolerated, and policies that promote discrimination must be reformed or reversed.
Additionally, it is vital that children in care be connected to families and that those families reflect them. Current legislation does not ensure that race, ethnicity, and culture are considered in placement decisions. Laws must be revised to support this.
Highlights of the VFA action steps include:
- On day one, repeal all executive orders and administrative actions, and revise policy positions that promote bigotry or a “license to discriminate.”
- Move toward racial equity in foster care and adoption by revising the Multiethnic Placement Act (MEPA) to allow race and ethnicity to be a factor in permanency planning.
- Mandate that all states offer kinship guardianship as a path to permanency.
- Create a dedicated funding stream for critical post-adoption and post-guardianship services.
- Allocate funding for research on adoption and guardianship that will inform policy and practice.
- Ensure that critical data elements are collected at the federal level, including those related to implementing the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) and youth who identify as LGBTQ.
- Recognize the sovereignty of tribal nations by defending ICWA in court and practice.
To best serve children and families, the foster care system in the United States must continually evolve. VFA is committed to staying on top of the latest research on policies and practices that either help or hurt children. The suggestions in our First 100 Days document align with our growing understanding of children and families’ needs.
“We look forward to working with the Biden/Harris administration to assure that all children have the opportunity to be permanently connected to a safe, loving, and well-supported family,” says Lori Ross, the CEO of Missouri’s FosterAdopt Connect and VFA Board President.
The full version of the transition document is available on VFA’s website.
This story originally appeared in The Imprint, a daily news publication dedicated to rigorous, in-depth journalism focused on families and the systems that impact their lives.