Julie Hawes Gordon, of Daviess County, Kentucky, joined 26 other foster, adoptive, and kinship families in Washington, D.C. on June 4 to 6 to urge federal legislators to do all they can to ensure that children in foster care are able to grow up and grow old in families rather than in group care or institutions.
The visits were planned by Advocates for Families First, a national collaboration dedicated to ensuring that children and youth have a family — relative, foster, or adoptive — when they cannot remain with their birth parents.
“Every child and youth has a right to have a lifelong family,” says Gordon. “Children want and deserve a mom, dad, grandparent, or another relative who will love them, tend to their hurts, celebrate their successes, and take care of them — now and in the future.” And she should know. Not only has she worked for over a decade as a juvenile/family law attorney and Guardian ad Litem for children and worked with various agencies and groups to support youth in foster and kinship care, she and her husband have also adopted.
Gordon and her husband had three younger children when the opportunity arose for her to adopt their oldest son, Dalton. Dalton experienced over forty placements, most of them in group care and institutions, during his decade in the foster care system. He became a part of the Gordon family two years ago when he was 17 years old. Now, at 19, he is a full-time student, works with the Fostering Success summer employment program, and is active in advocacy for foster youth. Dalton joined his mom in Washington, D.C., and shared his powerful story on Capitol Hill. Dalton says, “The love and support of family gave me the resilience to overcome the trauma of the past and to succeed. Children need families with the knowledge and support to be able to stick with them as they grow and learn.”
Currently, far too many children and youth in foster care don’t have a family to call their own:
- One in five children in foster care will live for some time in an institution, even though, for most of them, there is no therapeutic reason for this.
- It’s even worse for older children, with one in three teenagers in foster care in a group placement.
Research shows that children who live in a family while in the child welfare system fare better than those who are raised in institutions. Having a family matters because parenting doesn’t stop when children turn 18.
A key part of the discussion with policy makers was about the importance of support that children and youth need to heal from the trauma, loss, and hurt that come with their experiences. Gordon says, “For our family, without the support of experienced service providers, we would not have been able to provide the care that our children needed and deserved. I wanted to be sure that our federal legislators understand that foster, adoptive, and kinship families need support to help children grow and thrive.”
The goal for the visits was to be sure that policymakers know that children and youth can have a family if we invest in recruiting, developing, and supporting foster, kinship, and adoptive families. Gordon explains, “Across the country today, children and youth with many challenges are being successfully parented in families. With the right support, parents can care for children who are medically fragile, have difficult behaviors, and have mental health challenges. There’s no reason for 50,000 children in this country to be in group care or institutions. By showing policy makers who foster, adoptive, and kinship families are, we knew we could help ensure that children have a loving family to care for them when they can’t remain with their birth parents.”
Gordon also wants state leaders to understand the importance of supporting kinship, foster, and adoptive families, so every child has a family and a safe place to call home.
Gordon adds “State leaders have a major role to play to support families who step up to care for vulnerable children. For example, reinstating the Kinship Care Program to help kin caregivers step up to raise relative children could promote positive outcomes for children who have experienced trauma. The current administration has shown a strong commitment to supporting children at risk. The new Fostering Success Program provides a ten-week employment opportunity for former foster youth to learn valuable employment skills while earning a good wage. I also applaud the new website developed by the First Lady’s Office and the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, which provides simple and clear information on how to become an adoptive or foster parent.”