by Max Brantley
Washington, DC — Foster Care Alumni of America, the only national association for adults who experienced foster care as children, is calling on Arkansas citizens to vote “no” on Initiated Act 1 because it would narrow the potential pool of foster and adoptive parents for needy children in Arkansas.
“Every year, a growing number of Arkansas young people are turned out into the world with no family and no place of belonging that is so critical for young people’s success and well-being. Over the last 10 years, we estimate that at least 1,800 children in Arkansas never found families before becoming adults,” said Misty Stenslie, deputy director of Foster Care Alumni of America. “It is tempting to try to create the ‘ideal’ family for kids. As someone who aged out of care and who has worked with thousands of other adults who never made a permanent family connection, I can assure you children without families would welcome the caring permanent presence of any loving, qualified, stable adult.”
Like every other state, Arkansas is constantly challenged to find enough homes for its children who stay in care an average of 21.3 months, according to the latest data from 2005 that the state submitted to federal Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System. More than a third of the children in care are over the age of 13, a time in their lives when they are the least likely to ever be adopted. There are 997 children who have been waiting for 31 months to be adopted with no one to take them in.
Until Arkansas has reached the point at which there are more qualified families taking in kids than there are children who need homes, the state should not limit the qualified pool of parents even further. The process of identifying and qualifying potential parents for needy children should be left to qualified professionals. Each case must be evaluated by local judges and social workers who use their expertise to determine what is in the best interest of a child.
In fiscal 2007, the state had to send 216 children out on their own without a permanent family because they turned 18 and aged out of the foster care system. Even without the tight constraints of this ballot measure, those 216 children still never found a life-long bond with a stable family. Research tells us that without the necessary family supports, foster children who age out of the system will be less likely to attend college, more likely to be unemployed, and more likely to become homeless. These outcomes are heartbreaking for the youth and create financial burdens for taxpayers.
Foster Care Alumni of America’s opposition to this bill mirrors the stand taken by the partners of Arkansas Families First Coalition, who oppose Initiated Act 1 because it works against the best interests of children who need loving homes. Alumni of foster care believe the process of finding loving permanent homes where children can be nurtured and raised in an encouraging environment is challenging enough and should not be made even more difficult. Foster Care Alumni of America believes that child welfare experts, who know what is in the best interests of children, should decide on a case-by-case basis who should be a foster or adoptive parent. A blanket rule that bans otherwise qualified people from being foster or adoptive parents is not in the best interests of a child.
About Foster Care Alumni of America: In 2004, foster care alumni and advocates created a national non-profit association that brings together the expertise of adults who have experienced foster care. Foster Care Alumni of America (FCAA) was formed to engage the more than 12 million alumni of foster care and to advocate for the needs of the youth and alumni of foster care.
FCAA has more than 1,800 members from all 50 states. Through FCAA, alumni of foster care hope to create the ability to connect with one another in an organized and well-supported community and to use alumni expertise to transform the foster care system.
FCAA's mission seeks to provide innovation in the federal and state child welfare systems and effective and meaningful partnerships with child welfare organizations. FCAA has confidence that it can partner with others to reduce the numbers of children and youth in foster care and can improve the foster care experience through investments of their expertise and energy.
For more information on Foster Care Alumni of America, please visit our website at www.fostercarealumni.org.
About Arkansas Families First: Members of the Arkansas Families First coalition includes Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, the Arkansas Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Arkansas Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, the Arkansas Psychological Association, the Arkansas ACLU, Inter Faith Alliance, Arkansas Public Policy Panel, and others. For more information about the Families First coalition, visit www.arkansasfamiliesfirst.org.