As we move into the holiday season, it's easy to take for granted opportunities to spend time with cherished family and friends. For many of us, our families are our backbones and being at home surrounded by so much love gives us the motivation to face each and every one of life's challenges. Unfortunately, thousands of foster children around the country won't be celebrating the holidays with a permanent family, denying them the same opportunities we sometimes take for granted.
In the United States, thousands of children in foster care have waited years to be adopted by a permanent, loving family. What's worse is that for many of these foster youth who age out of the foster care system at 18 years old, the prospects for living a safe, healthy and productive life are dim. Foster youth who age out of the system are at a higher risk for unemployment, homelessness and incarceration, often left facing the prospect of long-term dependency on public assistance.
For years youth often wait in foster care before finding a permanent family through adoption. During their time in foster care, children are moved from home to home, changing schools, losing friends, coping with separation from siblings, and wondering if they will ever have anyone to call "mom" or "dad" again.
African-American children are overrepresented within the foster care system and are almost three times as likely to be in foster care as a white child. Black children comprise 33 percent of foster youth despite only being 14 percent of the overall child population. They also tend to stay in the system longer and are less likely to be adopted or reunified with their families.
Although this is all quite discouraging, there is hope. Many families like yours are stepping up to the plate and offering brighter futures for foster youth across the country.
For African-American children, the last decade has shown dramatic decreases in the percentage of children in foster care. Between 2002 and 2010, the number of children in foster care decreased by 21 percent -- from 533,000 to 408,500 and African-Americans accounted for more of this decrease than white children.
This month, on National Adoption Day (November 17th), the National Adoption Day Coalition set a goal of finding 4,500 foster youth loving and committed families willing to make a lasting difference in the life of a child through adoption or relative-based care.
Nearly 48 million Americans have considered adopting from foster care, according to a recent National Adoption Attitudes Survey commissioned by the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. If just one in every 500 of these adults adopt, every child in foster care waiting for adoption would have permanent families.
This National Adoption Month, like so many others, reminds us it's both our responsibility and in our best interest to find solutions that ensure children have the opportunity to live in a safe and loving home.
In Congress, I have been working to do my part as well. Through the bi-partisan Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth, which I co-founded, a voice is being given to these issues. The Foster Youth Caucus aims its efforts around developing legislative recommendations to strengthen the child welfare system and improve the overall well-being of youth and families.
Our caucus has traveled around the country, most recently Massachusetts and Rhode Island seeking out partners to enlist in our efforts to create more substantive federal policy that reduces the number of foster youth in our foster care system and creates awareness for the many families who have loving homes to offer.
Working with both Democrats and Republicans and many people like you, I know we can lay the groundwork to dramatically transform our foster care system and help to place many more youth with loving families.
So as we close out this year's National Adoption Month and prepare for the holiday season, let's do so with a newfound resolve to usher in the New Year more committed than ever to deliver on the promise of providing opportunity to every child, especially those without stable families to care for them.
Each of us working together can continue to positively impact the lives of foster youth and save them from lives of even more heartache, never knowing the comfort that comes from a loving family.
If your Representative is not a Member of the Caucus, please write, call or tweet them and ask that they join our efforts.
If you are one of the millions of Americans who has considered adoption but have yet to follow through, please remember the life that can await those who remain locked in the foster care system and the positive change you can have on their young lives by opening your home.
And if you have yet to think of adoption, please take this holiday season to remind yourself of what family means to you and how good it would feel to offer those same blessings to a child in need.
U.S. Rep. Karen Bass represents the 33rd Congressional District, which includes Los Angeles, Hollywood and Culver City and was the 67th Speaker of the California Assembly. Rep. Bass serves as the founder and a co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth.