Two college acceptance letters arrived at my house recently, but they were no ordinary acceptance letters.
These were letters to twin brothers who were born 17 years ago to a drug-addicted teenage mother, then spent the next few years in foster care.
These were letters announcing that my adopted brothers were accepted into Arizona State University, but they also proved that my brothers had made it; they had beaten the odds.
This is especially impressive when you consider how bleak those odds are for foster children. Within two years of emancipation from foster care, 25 percent are incarcerated, according to a 2004 study by the University of Wisconsin. Only 46 percent of foster youth graduate from high school, according to a 2005 study by the Institute of Higher Education Policy. Of those, only about 20 percent enroll in college.
So how did my brothers succeed when so many of their peers do not? It’s simple; my brothers were lucky enough to find a supportive, stable home: my home.
In 2011, there were 400,540 children in the foster care system, according to a 2011 report from The Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System. Some live with relatives, but about half live with nonrelative foster families. There is so little continuity or parental presence in many of their lives. Many of these children move from foster home to foster home, and 15 percent were placed in a group home or institution. More than 10 percent had been in foster care for five years or more.
I’ve seen how the lack of a stable home has detrimental long-term effects on these children. Moving from home to home takes a huge toll on their mental well-being, as well as their educational progress.
In January, President Obama signed into law the Uninterrupted Scholars Act, which will allow social workers access to foster youth’s academic records. This is an important step forward that will help foster children moving from home to home get the education they need, but it is not enough.
The best way to turn these disheartening statistics around is to recruit more good-quality foster parents. I encourage anyone with the means and the desire to help children to consider being a foster parent or adopting from the foster care system, and giving a child with so little opportunity a fair chance in life. My parents did, and it changed lives.
Foster care adoption is nearly free, much cheaper than other types of adoption, which can cost up to $40,000 in fees. Also, the majority of foster parents receive subsidies to offset the cost of taking care of these children. Foreign adoptions can also be incredibly difficult. Many countries have strict laws regarding foreign adoptions, and the Russian government recently banned adoptions of Russian children by U.S. citizens.
I’m not saying it’s easy. Taking in children who are not your own and have been through so much hardship is incredibly difficult. It can also be rough emotionally when they leave. The saddest day of my life was the day my 2-year-old foster sister Ana, who had been with us since she was just 3 months old, was put kicking and screaming into the back of a social worker’s car to be taken back to her birth mother.
And yet, as hard as Ana’s departure was on my entire family, just a year later we took in another foster child, an 8-year-old boy named Preston. My parents do not keep doing this because they are masochists. They keep taking in seemingly hopeless case after hopeless case because they have seen the good that a loving, stable family can do for a child.
They do it because of those college acceptance letters. They do it because of the beautiful artwork that decorates the bedroom walls of my 13-year-old sister Lindsey, who was born while her mother was in prison and came to us with severe developmental delays. They do it because of the incredible performance in a high school production of “Into the Woods” by Preston, a boy who just 9 years ago sat in shock on our couch, reeling from his mother’s death from a drug overdose.
There is not a doubt in my mind that when I am older and settled down, I will follow in my parents’ footsteps and become a foster parent. The love of a family is a basic human need that every child deserves. Providing a child with a loving home is one of the greatest gifts you could ever give, and you’ll get a lot back in return.
Think about it; you could be the difference between the hard twin bed of a prison cell or that of a dorm room. You could change the course of a child’s life.