Listening to Parents began in response to a contradiction. While tens of thousands of children wait in foster care to be adopted- many “aging out” of foster care without a family, countless parents are turned away or turned off by the process of adopting a child from foster care.
To better understand this problem, and develop ways to improve adoption services, researchers at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and the Urban Institute, conducted a national study to understand the adoption process from the perspective of people wanting to adopt a child from foster care. The report was released in conjunction with the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. The report, titled Listening to Parents is the most comprehensive study of its kind, using data analysis, case record reviews, surveys of child welfare agencies, interviews, and focus groups to document and understand the large attrition of prospective parents as they go from their initial information call to the adoption of a child. According to the research, in a given year 240,000 people called for information about adopting a child from foster care, but fewer than 10,000 actually did so.
Listening to Parents documented the many obstacles parents face in dealing with child welfare agencies. These include poor customer service, difficulty in reaching the right staff, disproportionate agency focus on screening out prospective parents, and bureaucratic delays.
In 2009, Listening to Parents was founded as a non-profit organization, whose mission is to increase the number of adoptions of children in foster care through changes in state and federal laws, policies and practices that eliminate unnecessary barriers to adoption.
There are many barriers that prevent children in foster care from being adopted. Consider the barriers that prevent children in foster care from being adopted across state lines. According to data collected by the Department of Health and Human Services, 690,000 children were adopted from foster care between 1998 and 2009. Only 4,600, a little over one-half of one percent, were adopted across state lines by a new family. In the average year, just 300 children are adopted across state lines. Removing barriers to interstate adoption is critical to expediting permanency for children, especially those in large urban areas that straddle state lines, such as the New York, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.
To address these and other barriers, Listening to Parents convened eighteen national experts in adoption and family policy to meet last March at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. The goal was to identify some of the barriers to adoption, and design potential solutions. Together, we designed a blueprint for reform. We are now working with members of Congress, the Administration, and others to create federal legislation that will reduce adoption barriers and increase the number of children adopted from foster care.