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More Americans who hope to adopt now consider foster children
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Children in foster care who are available for adoption may watch their childhoods pass by, year after year, without finding a permanent home. Olivia, a child in Columbus, Ohio, spent seven of her first 10 years moving from one home to another, wishing someone wanted her forever.

Not too long ago, someone decided they did. Empty-nesters Lorie and Dwain Hargis of Cecilia, Kentucky, adopted the girl, who is now 13. Foster care experts would like to see such adoptions become more common, and more potential parents may be ready to consider it.

An increasing number of Americans who would like to adopt say they would consider adopting a foster child, although that changing attitude has not translated yet into many more adoptions, according to a new national survey for the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, conducted by Nielson. More than 110,000 foster children nationwide are available to be adopted, but many of them eventually "age out" of the foster care system about 20,000 each year.

The report says one-fourth of those in the United States who have not adopted have considered doing so. And close to 80 percent of them said they'd thought about foster care adoption, marking a 7 percent increase from the last poll, in 2012.

That increase is cause for celebration, said Rita Soronen, president and CEO of the foundation, started by the late owner of the Wendy's food chain, Dave Thomas. "I think people are understanding this is viable if you are considering adopting. Maybe, even though we know some of the misperceptions are still there, it means they may be willing to dig in a little more and see who these kids are."

Olivia met her new parents through the foundation. She had been in foster care for seven years before a Wendy's Wonderful Kids adoption recruiter approached the Hargises about adopting her.

The foundation's sole mission is finding permanent homes for adoptable children in America's and Canada's foster care systems. The challenge is not a simple one, Soronen said. The system is complex. The children the foundation tries to find parents for are among the most challenging: They may be older, or part of sibling groups trying to stay together, or have mental or physical disabilities. Many of them have given up on themselves. Plus, it takes time to find the right families a process not helped by myths and misconceptions that form pretty steep hills for foster children to climb.

'Good news'

The survey found that 80 percent of Americans now understand that children are in foster care because of abuse or neglect, not because they've done something wrong. One of the most persistent and debilitating myths regarding foster care has been that the children are there because they are delinquents.

While some of the kids do act out, said Chelsey Winegar, a foundation-sponsored "Wendy's Wonderful Kids" recruiter who works for the Utah Adoption Exchange, their behavior issues are a natural outgrowth of negative experiences in their backgrounds. And they can be overcome.

The survey also found a 7 percent increase in the number of people who agree that "every child is adoptable," at 58 percent. "That's not where we'd like it to be," said Soronen, "but it is progress. We spent years hammering that message. I think people are beginning to understand."

Soronen noted changes in how Americans define healthy families, with "an uptick in almost every category. Americans do believe that grandparents can provide a healthy family, that older parents those 55 and older can provide a healthy family, that single parents, same-sex parents, people who have a different religion or race from a child, can all provide a healthy family. Five years ago, they might question whether or not a grandparent really could raise a grandchild.

"That's the good news," she said. "Families are as diverse as the children who are in foster care."


Misperceptions remain, though, starting with the notion among 76 percent of those surveyed that a child's parent will interfere with an adoption.

"They can't," said Soronen. "If it's an older youth, whether the parent or extended family is safely and appropriately involved in the child's life is up to you as the adoptive parent. But they cannot come back and try to claim this child."

The survey also found that the number of people who believe a child is in foster care because of his or her own bad deeds is down to 46 percent, which Soronen calls "still too high, but at least not a majority."

"Most are there because of neglect and trauma and abuse," but that is perhaps the most persistent and unfair myth, said Winegar.

Myths also surround the cost of adopting children in foster care; it's "mostly free, with some costs but not the tens of thousands of a private adoption," said Winegar. Folks don't think a single person can adopt, which is untrue. They believe mistakenly that one must be a homeowner to adopt, among other things. The list is long.

People often don't see foster kids' dreams or potential, and that's a shame, Winegar added.

"They are amazing kids. They are just like every other kid: They have the same goals and want to be successful in their lives. They want to be doctors and lawyers, to have the things all kids want. The difference is they just want a family, too. They want to know there are people who are going to love them and care for them and keep them safe," said Winegar.

Most kids worry about what to be when they grow up; kids in foster care may also wonder if they'll be in the same home after school and how long they'll be able to stay. They wonder if they'll ever call someone mom and dad again, she said.

"People get caught in the fact these kids have some problems. And they do. They may have difficult behaviors. But they have so many hopes and dreams. I work with kids who are incredibly resilient, who find hope in their lives when they have every reason not to. And they bring so much into other people's lives."

Olivia is not the only child Dwain and Lorie Hargis adopted from foster care once their children had grown and flown the nest. They fostered and later adopted five children, according to the foundation.

Utah bucks odds

Half of the children in Utah's foster care system cannot safely be returned to their homes. But Utah does pretty well, comparatively, at seeing that children find adoptive homes, said Marty Shannon, the adoption program administrator in the Division of Child and Family Services. Her program looks for relatives who are willing to adopt. It teams up with the Utah Adoption Exchange to recruit families, whether they're related by blood or not. And if adoption isn't possible, it looks for good alternatives, like guardianship.

Shannon said the vast majority of families that become licensed as foster parents go into it with the idea they might adopt their young charges. And as they have children in their homes "and learn to love all kinds of children, they tend to expand their plans," Shannon said. "That's one of the things that has really helped adoption in the state of Utah."

While "too many" kids age out of foster care, it's still relatively few, she said.

In fact, of children leaving foster care in Utah, 8 percent age out, 10 percent are adopted by relatives, 20 percent are adopted by nonrelatives, 18 percent go to relatives who have custody and guardianship and 2 percent go to foster parents who have been granted custody and guardianship. The others are the children who could be reunited safely with their families, which is the first goal of the foster care system, Shannon said.

The foundation's survey is conducted every five years. More information is available on the foundation website or by calling 1-800-ASK-DTFA.
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