Indiana residents adopted 1,509 children statewide in 2016, say statistics from the Indiana Department of Child Services. But while the Hoosier state boasts the nation’s fourth-highest rate of adoption per live births, another question remains: What about the children still waiting for their forever homes?
In October 2017, a total of 17,292 Children in Need of Services — children under the age of 18 who are neglected or abused, and who are not getting the care or treatment they deserve — were placed in foster homes throughout Indiana. Of those placements, 1,383 (8 percent) were in Allen, Whitley and the four counties of DeKalb, LaGrange, Noble and Steuben.
Ann Freeman, family development specialist at SAFY, Fort Wayne, said those numbers don’t tell the whole story.
“It’s a fluid number because any day, children who are currently being fostered may have their parental rights terminated and then become available for adoption, so the number is always changing,” Freeman said. “And, of course, the opposite way it changes is children get adopted and that number drops, but there are always more kids to take their place, unfortunately.”
Freeman said the majority of children waiting to be adopted in northeast Indiana are either in foster homes that aren’t pre-adoptive, residential facilities or hospital settings if they have specific medical needs.
“The majority of those kids will be in homes that aren’t looking to adopt and are still looking for their forever families,” she said.
Of the total number of foster children in Hoosier homes as of Nov. 3, Allen County held the third-highest number (1,041) behind only Marion (3,736) and Lake (1,335) counties. Placements in other northeast Indiana counties indicated by the Office of Data Management, Reports and Analysis include DeKalb (62), LaGrange (57), Noble (103), Steuben (74) and Whitley (46).
While foster parents choose to take in children for a number of reasons, SAFY Foster Parent Recruiter Ebonee Hower said the majority of the individuals she meets with are looking to adopt. Nevertheless, age preference is still a roadblock for many.
“The majority of people I would say are interested in adopting babies — 5 and under and 3 and under — because maybe they’re nervous of certain behaviors,” Hower said. “They haven’t been with the child since birth and maybe they’re worried about how they will connect with them, but teenagers don’t need any less love than a baby does.”
Foster parents taking in SAFY-served youth may take on children from a variety of backgrounds, whether they have had their parental rights terminated and are up for adoption, are in the process of having their rights terminated by the court or are likely to return home to their birth parents. In 2016, Specialized Alternatives for Families and Youth Indiana — which has offices in Fort Wayne, South Bend, Merrillville and Indianapolis — served 734 families and youths. Hower said the Fort Wayne agency currently serves about 30 foster kids and four of their children were adopted this year. However, while adoptions are an essential component of the agency’s work, the main focus is any kind of permanency.
“In foster care, permanency can mean reuniting with their birth parents or adoption,” Hower said. “The first goal of foster care always is reunification, but then when it comes to a point where a child is unable to go home, that’s when we look into the foster-to-adopt part.”
Hower said many foster parents grieve when children leave their homes, but while living situations aren’t guaranteed to be permanent — especially through legal risk placements — prospective parents should value the children’s well-being first and foremost.
“Legal risk means that the courts may be leaning towards termination of parental rights but it hasn’t been finalized yet, so there’s that legal risk that it might not happen, the child may end up going back home or another relative may come into the picture that wants to adopt,” Hower said. “It’s kind of a heavy job because I have to tell people that they have to accept the fact that the child may go home. That fear might make people shy away from foster-to-adopt because, if you get really attached and the child goes home, it’s heartbreaking, but one of the things I always try to tell our parents is that our kids need healthy attachments.”
On the other hand, even children with their rights terminated are waiting to be adopted. A visit to adoptuskids.org/states/in/browse.aspx can offer a glimpse of that unfortunate reality. The website contains 123 results of individual children and siblings waiting to be adopted in Indiana as of November 2017. Of those 139 individuals, which range between 5 and 17 years old, 12 currently reside in foster homes in Allen County, two are in Steuben County, and Noble and DeKalb counties are home to one each.
Every year and every Christmas that goes by puts each of these children one year ahead of most adoptive parents’ preferred age ranges, making it increasingly less likely they will make it out of the foster care system before the age of 18.
“The kids that are ready to be adopted with their rights terminated through foster care are typically older,” Hower said. “These kids really need a forever family. Everyone deserves that.”
For more information on adoptions in the state of Indiana, visit the Indiana Department of Child Services at in.gov/dcs.