Q&A: National Adoption Month—With U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley
Q: Why is November celebrated as National Adoption Month?
A: As the saying goes, home is where the heart is. For many Americans, the nation’s Thanksgiving holiday is a national homecoming that brings friends and families together from near and far on the fourth Thursday of November. Gathering with loved ones under one roof is a gift that should never be taken for granted. Consider nearly 690,000 children and youth were served by the foster care system in the United States in fiscal year 2018. Across the country, tens of thousands of children live in transition and yearn for a place to call home, including nearly 4,000 youth in foster care in Iowa. These kids await reunification with their biological family or for adoption with a forever family. For many years I have steered public policy in the U.S. Senate to improve child welfare laws that will foster the best outcomes for vulnerable, at-risk children, many of whom have experienced neglect or abuse in an unsafe home environment. Many kids come into foster care with special needs after traumatic exposure to substance disorders, drug abuse or violence. Coping with family separation can be traumatizing, especially if kids are separated from siblings or shuffled from one foster home to the next. For years I’ve heard the same message from foster youth with whom I have had the opportunity to collaborate: They want a forever family and to know they will always have a seat at the family dinner table. They long to have a mom and dad who remind them to brush their teeth and get their homework done. Foster teens would prefer to have parents who insist on a curfew, rather than having no one care when or if they return. As co-founder of the Senate Caucus on Foster Youth, I’ve used this platform to listen and advocate for reforms that will give foster kids the best chance to have a forever home and lead productive lives as they transition into adulthood.
Most recently, I’ve introduced legislation that would help states implement changes to child welfare laws enacted last year. The bipartisan, bicameral Family First Transition Act would expand flexibility and provide more resources for state child welfare agencies to implement evidence-based prevention services and parenting programs to keep kids out of foster or group homes. If it’s not possible to reunite or keep families together, policies that allow kids to live with extended family members and to prevent adoptive kids from coming back into foster care are important to pursue. I’ve also introduced the bipartisan Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act that would ensure foster youth who age out of the system without the support of a forever family have access to housing assistance to help them transition into the workplace, school and community. Too many foster youth are at risk of homelessness without social support services and financial assistance as they strive towards independence.
Q: What is the Angels in Adoption program?
A: Communities across Iowa will celebrate National Adoption Month by finalizing adoptions of children from foster care, many of whom have waited years for a forever family. Child welfare advocates, judges, attorneys and adoption professionals work year-round to help kids placed in the foster care system to reunite with their parents or find households able to welcome them home through adoption. Families who open their hearts to adoption give kids a new lease on life as they take on the challenges and rewards of parenting. National Adoption Month provides an opportunity for society to honor the angels among us who open their homes to foster youth, expand their families through adoption and strengthen our communities with their efforts. Since 1999, the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute has recognized ordinary Americans who impact the lives of children in need of a forever family through their extraordinary work. This year I was pleased to nominate a family from Ankeny, Iowa to receive the Angels in Adoption award. Jake and Liz Skurdal have devoted their lives to serve foster youth and troubled teens, many of whom have experienced the trauma of neglect and abuse. All told, the married couple has opened their hearts and home to foster 19 children and are the adoptive parents of six of them. For the 30 days of November and every other day of the year, society owes a debt of gratitude for all Iowans who are able to become a foster or adoptive parent to a child in need. Let us celebrate and encourage those who are able to extend the bonds of unconditional love and devotion in a stable, permanent home for children in need of a forever family.