Kelly Rosati, vice president of Advocacy for Children at Focus on the Family, spent last weekend fruitfully. “Nearly 75 new families in Minneapolis stepped out today to begin the foster care or foster care adoption journey. Good job Minnesota!” she tweeted.
The movement was part of Focus on the Family’s Wait No More Initiative to get children who are in foster care into loving homes. Today, on National Adoption Day, Rosati talks about foster care, adoption, and what each of us can do to make life better for children waiting to be adopted.
Kelly Rosati: There are more than 400,000 children in foster care in the U.S. Of those, more than 100,000 are waiting for permanent families. For those more than 100,000 children, their birth parents’ rights have been terminated, because their homes aren’t safe even after reunification has been attempted. Those children are living in temporary foster-care homes, group homes, or residential settings with no permanent families to call their own. The kids who are waiting tend to be teenagers, sibling groups, or kids with special needs. Some people describe them as “unadoptable.” We categorically reject that label and believe each one deserves a permanent family.
Lopez: What’s the best way to support families who want to help foster?
Lopez: How are these families best vetted to make sure they have good homes for children?
Rosati: All foster and adoptive families are vetted through licensed child-placing agencies. The process includes a background check, home study, and specialized training — and lots of paperwork.
Lopez: When should adoption happen?
Rosati: Adoption should happen whenever a child needs a family. One of the things we ask people to consider is that adoption is not about the desire of adults for a child (however good that desire is) but rather it is about a child’s need for family. God’s design for children is a loving family.
Lopez: What is Wait No More, and how does it work?
Rosati: Wait No More (WNM) is Focus on the Family’s foster-care adoption program. It began almost ten years ago through the passion and experience of our president, Jim Daly, who himself was orphaned and spent time in foster care. Essentially, we try to use the voice and reach of Focus on the Family on behalf of kids in foster care awaiting adoption — kids who have no voice of their own. Through our WNM events, we recruit adoptive families for those kids waiting in foster care. We do this through half-day, community-based events where we work with local and state governments, adoption agencies, churches, and ministries to recruit desperately needed foster and adoptive families.
Lopez: What difference does this program make?
Rosati: The biggest difference of all. Lonely kids who currently belong nowhere and to no one finally get what they’ve been waiting for: forever adoptive families, a place to belong, people to love them unconditionally. They come home, for good.
Lopez: How do your events work?
Rosati: We put on half-day events in local churches where attendees start with worship and hearing from the Scripture about God’s heart for orphans. They go on to hear about the kids in their state foster-care system who are waiting for adoptive families. They hear perspectives from an adoptive mom, adoptive dad, and birth siblings already in the home, as well as from two women who were in foster care as children, one who was adopted and one who wasn’t.
They get to hear firsthand what it feels like to be one of the waiting kids and why it’s so important to find adoptive families for them. They also learn from a social worker about the steps in the process and the “why” behind those steps. Finally, they learn the “why” behind some of the difficult behaviors the kids often exhibit when they come from traumatic backgrounds, and they are taught how they can best navigate some of those challenges.
Lopez: What success stories can you share?
Rosati: We’ve had more than 3,500 families begin the process of foster-care adoption at one of our 35 Wait No More events in 20 states. Each one represents real lives, real children, and families. My two favorite stories are these. A family from our first WNM event adopted a sibling group of four boys in foster care who had been told they would never be placed together but instead would have to be split up. This amazing family, with three teen and young-adult birth kids already in their home said, “No, don’t split them up. We’ll take them all.” And they did. They welcomed them home and gave them a beautiful life, after they’d only known abuse and deprivation in their past. It sure hasn’t been easy or a fairy tale, but they would all tell you each one of their children was worth it.
Another of my favorite stories is of a Wait No More family that adopted a 17-year-old young lady, 30 days before she was to become an adult who would have belonged nowhere and to no one. In both cases, everyone involved would have said it was impossible to find adoptive families for a sibling group of four or for an almost 18-year-old with behavioral challenges. But nothing is impossible with God. He’s a father to the fatherless, and Scripture says He sets the lonely in families. That’s what He has done through Wait No More.
Lopez: What are the biggest challenges facing foster care and adoption?
Rosati: The biggest challenge is that there are not enough healthy adults willing to enter in and sacrifice for the sake of the children. Entering in, with either foster care or adoption, can be inconvenient, frustrating, demanding, difficult, uncomfortable, fear-inducing, heart-wrenching, and it goes completely against our cultural preferences for ease and comfort. But it’s completely worth it. Having adopted four kids from foster care with significant special needs, I can say that with confidence and certainty.
Once you do enter in, the biggest challenge relates to parenting kids who’ve experienced serious trauma. When the kids come from that background, they will almost always exhibit very challenging behaviors. As a result, parents need to be humble, flexible, seek help, and live with more grace, patience, perseverance, and tolerance than they ever knew they possessed. Thankfully, God gives all those things in abundance, even as the journey is lived out imperfectly.
Lopez: What are the biggest opportunities?
Rosati: To get orphans into families where they belong — nothing like it!
Lopez: What might be your plea — or maybe your challenge — to people of faith, maybe in a particular way with regard to adoption and foster care?
Rosati: Would you simply commit to do this for 30 days? Pray and ask God: Do you want to use me and the blessing of our family on behalf of a child without one? Just ask Him, and take small steps in faith.
Lopez: Are there a few things everyone can do to help foster care and adoption today?
Rosati: Yes! Pray for orphans and foster and adoptive families. Speak out so the needs of orphans and adoptive families are prioritized among the many other things vying for our attention. Ask an adoptive family how you can be a practical and faithful support to them. Become a court-appointed special advocate for children in foster care. Donate to ministries serving orphans and adoptive and foster families. There are countless ways to get involved. Not all Christians are called to foster care or adoption but we are all called to care and act on behalf of orphans, whether locally or globally. Visit our website for more information or resources to get involved.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and an editor-at-large of National Review. Sign up for her weekly NRI newsletter here.