|ISU Center helps foster and adopted children|
|Written by Douglas Bridges-O’Connor, Daily Vidette Senior Staff|
|Tuesday, 01 May 2012 11:55|
At ISU, the Center for Adoption Studies seeks to help alleviate problems within the child welfare system through research and analysis.
The Center for Adoption Studies was established in 1998 to serve as a cooperative effort between ISU and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.
In 2004, the center partnered with the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. They then received funding for a policy staff position with the institute, which is the center’s co-directors, Susan Smith and Jeanne Howard, which enables their work to gain a broader reach.
Howard has been at ISU for 30 years and, during her career, has developed passions that have greatly influenced her work: to prevent children from growing up and then “aging out” of the foster care system and to provide specialized services to adoptive families struggling to help a distressed child cope.
The research on children who age out of the foster care system can be extremely discouraging.
Once left to their own devices, these young people are more likely to be underemployed and, young men particularly, are more likely to develop a criminal record.
Newly released foster children also have a higher risk of homelessness and becoming young parents.
“It’s just unacceptable to have all these kids on their own after having suffered maltreatment, in their own homes and sometimes in the foster care system, and then just to say, ‘See ya! Have a good life!’ If the state is the parent of these kids, then they leave [the system] and this is what happens to them, it’s pretty convincing evidence that a state doesn’t make a good parent,” Jeanne Howard, co-director of the Center for Adoption Studies, said.
Before these children are adopted, they have most likely been both physically and mentally hurt in a variety of ways.
To keep adoptive families together, Howard said it is essential that specialized services are provided to children and their families once the adoption process is completed.
“Adoption doesn’t cure anything. It’s good for kids, but it’s not a giant eraser. It doesn’t take away all the history of loss, trauma, and difficulty that they’ve had.
“We should expect, from time to time, some of those families are going to need ongoing mental health support, counseling, and a variety of other services. We can’t expect them to just sink or swim on their own,” Howard said.
According to the U.S. Children’s Bureau, there are over 100,000 children in foster care waiting for an adoptive home and over 27,000 of them age out of foster care each year.
“There’s a lot to be proud of in terms of progressive child welfare practices in Illinois. It’s about orienting the system to meet the needs of kids, rather than anything else. First things first: kids need homes. Let’s look at everybody who could be a good possibility. That’s just the only rational way to do this.
“To disqualify somebody on a given characteristic, like they’re single or they’re a same-sex couple, is damaging to kids. So it’s better to have an inclusive policy that welcomes everybody who could be a resource, then study each one to make sure they are the right resource for a particular child,” Howard added.
Currently, the Center is working on several things, including an ongoing community-based effort to address the disproportionality of African-American children — that is, having a higher number of children in the system then there should be, given their percentage in the population.
“‘Why is that? What do we need to do to make sure that African-American kids have the same life chances as any other child?’ I think we strengthen those families, rather than separate them,” Howard explained.
The center is also working to complete a study called the “Stress and Coping Study.” The study examines approximately 200 families with adopted children who have received specialized services for their children and are struggling to cope with severe trauma from their family of origin or their experiences in the foster care system.
“We’ve looked over time at many families who have adopted children that just have had awful things happen to them. Not surprisingly, many of those kids have really serious problems after adoption,” Howard said.