I spent Saturday at D.C. Superior Court for Adoption Day, with a standing-room only crowd who came to celebrate the 29 children being adopted during this year's ceremony. I've attended Adoption Day for more than a decade. I can still feel the love surrounding children whose journey to the courthouse has been long and the excitement from their new families about their bright futures. The room was full of balloons, smiles - and lots of hugs.
|The Cohills, with their Children's Law Center attorney Jess Sucherman and Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Mullin, celebrate after receiving their signed adoption decree at DC Superior Court on Adoption Day, November 23, 2013.|
I celebrate with these families on Adoption Day, but I also always feel a measure of sadness because I know the children being adopted have experienced such devastating trauma: abuse or neglect and then removal from their birth families. I'm an adoptive parent myself, and I know what a difficult time my sons had before I met them in 1996, after they and their brothers and sisters were dropped off, one at a time, in six separate foster homes.
It's a long road for children who, like my boys, are placed into foster care. Children need safe and stable homes to thrive, but achieving this happens in different ways. After they and their parents are given the right support services, some are able to return safely to their birth parents. Sometimes another relative steps up to become a guardian for a child temporarily or permanently. And some are adopted.
No matter the outcome, it can be a long journey. In fiscal year 2013, DC children spent an average of 18 months in foster care before being reunified with their birth parents; 37 months before guardianship; and 46 months -- just shy of four years -- before adoption.
The trauma of abuse and of being separated from parents, brothers and sisters is painful -- and so is the uncertainty of being in foster care. I know from my own experiences as a foster parent and also through my work at Children's Law Center. We represent many of the individual foster children behind the statistics. Our goal is to help children succeed in loving, stable families.
We also know that it takes more than love to help children succeed in new or struggling families -- they also need a solid foundation of health and education. For example, we met "Kyle" when he was at risk of losing his special education services and falling further behind his peers when he moved from a foster home in DC to his grandmother's house in Prince George's County. When we met the five "Fowler" siblings, ages 4 to 12, they had never been enrolled in school and hadn't seen a doctor in years before coming to live with their aunt and uncle. For all of them, meeting their health and education needs was the key to their recovery. I'm happy to report that all of these children are doing much better today.
I couldn't help but tear up when a little girl told the crowd that "adoption is when your auntie becomes your mommy." So much power in one sentence. It holds the love and hope of the future, with the tempering reality of all that this little girl must have experienced in the preceding years. And it renewed my resolve to make sure that fewer children will understand this little girl's sentiment -- but those who do will rebound as quickly as possible.