Op-Ed - Spotlight on Adoption in Kentucky

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Lori Mangum

Op-Ed Author: Lori Mangum, Director, Maryhurst Foster Care

November is National Adoption Month, and though the monthlong observance is an important conversation starter, it can’t fully convey the ongoing and unmet needs of children searching for their forever homes. During this season of giving and gratitude, the truth is that more than 7,000 kids in Kentucky will spend the holidays in the care of someone other than their family of origin.

As we take time this month to celebrate the bonds that make a family, it’s important to remember and support the work of youth service professionals that help kids navigate the system and find permanent families when return to their families of origin is not possible. For many, that process begins with foster care. In fact, here in the bluegrass state, 87 percent of all children who are adopted are adopted by their foster parents.

Foster care is often designed to provide a safe, nourishing environment for a child to grow and prosper while their parents attempt to regain the balance needed to care for children. However, if reunification with biological families isn’t feasible, adoption is an alternative that provides children with a permanent home that helps them to grow and thrive.

In Kentucky, the average child spends about three years in foster care before being adopted or reaching the age of 18. Unfortunately, 11 percent of children in foster care spend more than five years in the system. Often transferring from one home to the next, these kids miss out on the advantages of home stability, which makes healthy development especially difficult.

The problem is further compounded by many families’ resistance to adopting older children. The average age of Kentucky children who are adopted is 7.3 years. Sadly, for children age 9 and older, their likelihood of getting adopted drops significantly, plummeting from 41 percent for children ages 0-4, to only 16 percent for those age 13 or older. It’s a problem that must be addressed.

Luckily there are agencies here in our state working to stand up for the children that others have forgotten. Based in Louisville, Maryhurst is working to improve the adoption odds for children and especially older youth across the state.

Maryhurst works with potential foster families to help improve their experience and facilitate the adoption process. Many of the children in Maryhurst’s care are survivors of abuse and neglect. Any parent fostering through Maryhurst receives specialized training to create a balance of structure and nurture in the home—one with a solid foundation to work through family issues related to trauma.

One major challenge is finding homes for children in their teens, including those about to age out of foster care at age 18. According to a report from the state issued on November 5, it is believed there are approximately 3,664 youth ages 12-21 in the custody of the Cabinet for Health & Family Services. In contrast, there are only 1,644 foster homes in the state willing to accept youth age 12-21.

But Maryhurst helps to close that gap by working with potential and current foster parents to prepare them for the challenges of fostering older youth. For example, Maryhurst provides “respite” care to full-time foster parents. On a regular basis, Maryhurst helps to arrange for the child to stay with another foster family. This allows the full-time family some time to re-energize and re-focus, and enables the child the opportunity to form healthy relationships with others and grow their support system while in foster care.

In addition to respite care, Maryhurst’s foster care model encourages regular communication and advice-sharing among families that are parenting through the agency. The network of parents is anchored by a “hub parent” that has years of foster and adoption experience as well as expertise in the trauma-informed therapeutic approach.

Like the Maryhurst Hub Parent, the real heroes this National Adoption Month are the ones we see opening their doors, their homes and their hearts to children and youth, giving them a chance to heal by spending time in a healthy home environment.

Though Maryhurst services are currently limited to the Greater Louisville area and the surrounding counties within an hour of Louisville, the agency can help connect the entire statewide community of potential and current foster parents with resources that help give children new opportunities and better futures. To learn more about Maryhurst and how we serve kids and families across Kentucky, please visit maryhurst.org.