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‘Moral adoptions’ and lifelong commitments prevent adoptive children from going to jail and off the streets, study finds

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This story is part of the SoJo Exchange of the Solutions Journalism networka nonprofit organization dedicated to rigorous reporting on responses to social issues.

Young people placed in “aging” foster care in the child welfare system, without emotional or financial family support, face a perilous transition to adulthood – one that can trap them in the justice system.

Studies found that young people who leave foster care before they grow old — either by reuniting with their family of origin, placing them with extended relatives, or adopting them — are significantly less likely to be incarcerated at the end of life. teens and early twenties, ending up on the streets, or being victims of sex trafficking.

“Young people without support networks are at risk of negative outcomes as they transition from the child welfare system into adulthood,” according to a 2018 report prepared for Congress by the Department for Health and Human Services.

“The risks are likely to be particularly severe for the nine per cent of young people who ’emancipate’ or age out of foster care without a permanent home.”

The report affirms the importance of finding permanent families for young people in care.

What is “moral adoption”?

Earlier this month, the New York-based organization You have to believe hosted a symposium on what it calls “moral” adoption – a model of finding permanent families for older foster kids. The organization began applying this model in the mid-1990s.

“We’re trying to reach children who don’t intend to return home or go to someone’s home after they get older,” said Mary Keane, senior counselor for Family Permanence Services at You Gotta Believe. , to The Crime Report.

“Moral adoption really means making a lifelong commitment,” adds Paul Brown, an adoptive parent of over 20 years and former You Gotta Believe board member.

Brown became Rey Santiago’s adoptive father when Rey was 13. Ray was separated from his mother when he was eight – due to drug addiction and neglect – and placed in foster care.

He went through six different foster homes in five years.

The purpose of the November symposium was to raise awareness of what makes “moral adoption” distinctive and effective; chief among these distinctions being the bondage of placement through recognition of a reluctance on the part of many older foster youth to be legally adopted.

The group You Gotta Believe helps urban youth

Ricardo Vasquez, who was morally adopted by his former social worker, explained the concept this way:

“If you’re talking about urban New York kids,” Vasquez said, “we’re not interested in adoption. Our thought process isn’t to submit or run under a rock and say, ‘ Hey, I need your help. adopt me?’ For us, it is weakness; thinking about adoption is weakness.

Vasquez was placed with a woman who was initially his social worker at New York City’s child protective agency, the Children’s Services Administration.

A close bond has developed between Vasquez and his social worker over the years.

“I just got lucky,” he recalls. “You Gotta Believe connected me with a forever home and my social worker became my adoptive parent. We were able to connect.

“I’m Caribbean, she’s Caribbean, so she understood my background and she always opened my mind.”

Before becoming Vasquez’s official adoptive parent, however, she stood by him during the troubled times of young adulthood — times when he was regularly back and forth in prison.

The consistency and unwavering commitment that Vasquez’ adoptive mother showed him is the essence of moral adoption.

Moral adoption is characterized by the absence of commitment required on the part of the young person, unless he chooses to do so; but the insistence on lifelong commitment to the foster home.

This allows foster youth to find permanent adoptive families without having to agree to a formal legal adoption or psychological commitment themselves.

When Ricardo was in his early twenties, he chose to legalize their mother-son relationship and was officially adopted.

This happens often, according to Mary Keane, former president of the organization.

When the subject of legal adoption came up with Rey Santiago a few months after moving in with Paul Brown, Santiago was uneasy. Brown respected Santiago’s reluctance and dropped the case; yet their lack of a legal bond has never reflected their identification or behavior as family.

Now, many years later, legally formalizing their relationship “isn’t a problem anymore,” Brown says.

Since its founding in 1995, You Gotta Believe’s program staff has grown to include 100% former foster youth, as well as adoptive parents of foster youth. During the ten weeks of training, coaching and education – which prospective families undergo to be eligible for facilitation of the adoption process and subsequent support services from You Gotta Believe – former young people in families foster talk about what it’s like to go through the foster family system, from first hand experience.

“Homelessness Prevention”

It’s built into the lesson plan. Some of the typical effects of this experience, such as a learned lack of trust, let adoptive parents know what they might find in young people they might adopt.

You Gotta Believe founder Pat O’Brien describes the organization’s origins as focusing on foster care to prevent homelessness.

“Basically the idea was to be a homelessness prevention program,” O’Brien said, “because at the time, whatever homeless population I looked at, a significant percentage of homeless people had spent time in foster care as children; which meant they basically left the foster care system alone in this world. And when the children reach a certain age, no one makes an effort to find them a permanent family for life; and there was a need for an organization that was going to focus on that. A goal.

O’Brien, now retired from day-to-day operations, remembers that it was essential to ensure, with as much certainty as possible, that the homes in which the young people they worked were indeed permanent.

“We would not place a child if the family did not commit to adopting him, even if they could not do so legally because either the child was not free or the child did not want to change name or the child did not want to be legally adopted,” he said.

That commitment is paying off, says adoptive parent Paul Brown.

“Besides doing a lot of good for young people, it’s incredibly fulfilling to be a family,” Brown said. “Sometimes it can be difficult, but mostly it’s deeply satisfying, (mostly) the human connection.”

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