Q: Why is National Adoption Month observed in November?
A: During this season of thanksgiving, millions of American households open their homes to friends and family from near and far. We come together to celebrate cherished traditions that have been handed down for generations. Hospitality, hearth and harvest come to mind as families gather at the table and give thanks. As Americans make plans for the holiday feast, we can quibble about giblets in the gravy or whether to roast, deep fry or brine the turkey. Each family enjoys its own unique traditions and family favorites on the Thanksgiving menu. When it's all said and done, there's really no place like home. That's why it's especially fitting to commemorate National Adoption Month in November. Tens of thousands of foster children in America long to have a permanent place setting at their very own family's table on Thanksgiving Day and every other day of the year. Last year, nearly 400,000 children lived in the U.S. foster care system. Of those, nearly 102,000 awaited adoption. More than 26,000 aged out of the system before ever securing a permanent place to call home. Since 1990, National Adoption Month has helped to raise awareness for children awaiting adoption and appreciation for those who have answered the call to serve as foster or adoptive parents. So many of us look forward to celebrating the homecoming of friends and family on Thanksgiving Day. Just consider the hope-filled anticipation of a child longing to be welcomed home for good to a forever family.
Q: What can be done to help more children awaiting adoption to find a permanent, loving home?
A: As co-founder and co-chair of the bipartisan Senate Caucus on Foster Youth, I've worked to raise public awareness and educate policymakers about the challenges facing foster youth, especially those who age out of the system with no long-term support structure in place. Children and adolescents need stability, certainty and constancy in their lives. A permanent, loving home provides the most nurturing foundation to help youth reach their fullest potential in society. We should acknowledge foster youth throughout the year, not just November, and give thanks to parents who heed the call to adopt a child. And, we can always do more to ensure that children who await adoption get the assistance they need, including support to stay in school and sustain their education. Earlier this year, I introduced the Foster Youth Stamp Act of 2013 that would provide for the issuance and sale of a postal stamp by the U.S. Postal Service. Revenue generated from the stamp would support state-based programs, including the Adoption Opportunities Program which seeks permanent outcomes for foster care youth through adoption, guardianship or kinship care and the State Court Improvement Program which seeks to improve legal representation for youth and addresses caseloads and the court's role in achieving safe, stable, permanent homes for children in foster care.
Q: What other legislative provisions have you championed to promote adoption?
A: As an outspoken advocate for "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" at the policymaking tables in Washington, I believe these founding principles apply especially to vulnerable children in our society. I've worked with Iowa families, foster youth, child welfare advocates, court representatives and social workers to help identify financial, legal and bureaucratic roadblocks that make it difficult for kids to find a permanent, loving home through adoption, guardianship or reunification with their birth family. Through congressional hearings and legislation, I've worked to raise awareness about the stability that adoption can bring to a child in need of a loving home as well as the public good adoption brings to society.
In 1997, I worked to advance the Adoption and Safe Families Act that is credited with doubling adoptions from foster care in many states.
As then-chairman of the tax-writing Senate Finance Committee, I secured an expansion of federal tax credit assistance in the 2001 tax law that increased qualified expenses for adoption from $5,000 to $10,000. Today the tax credit is indexed for inflation and was made a permanent provision of the federal tax code earlier this year. Adoptive parents this year may apply $12,970 in qualified adoption expenses to their 2013 federal tax return.
In 2006, congressional hearings in the Senate Finance Committee led to the passage of the Child and Family Services Improvement Act that improved programs designed to help troubled families and increased caseworker visits for foster care youth.
In 2008, I authored the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions lawwhich increased federal incentives for states to move children from foster care to adoptive homes; made it easier for children to be adopted by relatives; made children with special needs eligible for federal adoption assistance; and, established new educational opportunities for youth who age out of foster care at age 18.
Q: What is National Adoption Day?
A: Since 2000, 44,500 families have finalized adoptions on National Adoption Day. Organizers single out the Saturday before Thanksgiving to raise public awareness and honor adoptive families across the country. As Iowans count our blessings and celebrate family on Thanksgiving Day, let's remember the children in our communities who dream to find a family to call their own once and for all. Have you, a family member, friend or neighbor considered adoption? On behalf of the thousands of foster children whose single-most important wish upon the turkey's wishbone would be to take a seat at their very own family's Thanksgiving table, I encourage you to prayerfully consider the call if you're in a position to do so.