I’ll tell you the moment I couldn’t ignore it any longer. The moment I knew I had to do more.
I’ve known about foster care my entire life. When I was in high school, the kids from the local children’s home attended our school. They were my friends and classmates.
For years I have sat behind a family at church who have three daughters adopted from foster care and two precious little girls, still trapped in the system waiting to see if their biological mother is able to make the life changes necessary to receive custody or if this sweet couple will be able to adopt them after all. These girls have been in and out of foster care and sitting on the pew in front of us for most of their lives.
I’ve seen pictures from my college roommate — an amazing proponent of supporting children in foster care — and have heard the hard stories of those she has fought for so passionately and loved so dearly.
I’ve kissed and loved on the beautiful baby and adorable toddler that my cousin and his wife have parented, loved on and cared for while raising the two rambunctious boys she gave birth to.
I’ve watched my sweet daughter-in-law’s parents as they foster a beautiful little boy from 6 months to 2 years of age. I rejoiced with them when the adoption was finalized, and he was “officially” her little brother.
I’ve thought of all of these people as the world’s true heroes.
Willie and I have a daughter who has a sweet mother in Taiwan, but she has lived with us since she was 16 and is like a daughter to us. We adopted our third child when he was 5 weeks old and our sixth child when he was 12 years old. Adoption has been a great gift to our family. It has made our family complete. So, yes, we have cared about this issue our entire lives.
I felt the urge and even looked into becoming foster parents when our children were little, but was overwhelmed learning about the classes, homestudies and court dates that fostering brings. With four little mouths to feed and bodies to tuck into bed at night and a growing business running out of our home, I put it off until a later date.
Then the moment came that I realized I had to do more to fight for children in foster care. Of all places, it was at a cocktail party in Washington, D.C.
A couple of years ago, Willie and I received an award from the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI) at their annual Angels in Adoption gala. During that trip, we saw that CCAI was doing good, important work. We were inspired by all of the “Angels” who had traveled from almost every state in our country to be honored for their work in adoption and the families they have created through the process. We were in a room full of people literally saving kids’ lives, giving them forever families. They were doing the beautiful work of turning children who had been abused and abandoned into loved and cherished sons and daughters.
Fast-forward two years: Willie and I were asked to be the Masters of Ceremonies for the Angels of Adoption gala. We gladly said yes. We arrived the night before the gala for CCAI’s annual cocktail party, and it was there that I heard this young girl’s story.
She asked to take a picture with me and then proceeded to tell me how she ended up at this party. She looked to be around 20 years old and had spent the summer in D.C. with CCAI’s Foster Youth Internship Program. She was a fighter and an incredible advocate for children in the foster care system, because she had been one. She was in the system her entire life, bouncing around to nine different foster homes. Never getting adopted, never finding that forever family, never having a mom and dad to call her own and who called her their daughter.
She said, “Do you know what the statistics say happens to kids like me?” I was ashamed to say that I didn’t. In all of my “caring” about this issue, I had never really considered what happens to kids who “age out” — who reach 18-years-old and are not adopted into a family. She proceeded to tell me.
This unfortunately happens to about 21,000 kids every year in our country. When they turn 18, and in some states 21, they are truly on their own. Sadly, the statistics show that they are more likely to end up homeless, as drug addicts and in prison. Her brother is one of these statistics, who is in prison at just 19 years old. She went on to tell me he was a good kid, he was just out on his own and made bad choices.
Thankfully, she was working hard to not become one of the sad statistics. She had been accepted into the Foster Youth Internship Program with CCAI and had spent the summer on Capitol Hill advocating for her people, fighting to change the system, to make U.S. Congressmen, Senators and lawmakers aware of her and her brother’s plight.
I was in awe and inspired by this beautiful girl and the hard-won confidence, grit and determination it took for her to be there speaking on behalf of other children and youth like herself.
Willie and I knew we wanted to join the Board of CCAI that night. We wanted to be a part of an organization that brought a young woman like her to Capitol Hill, an organization that gave her the voice and the chance to become something different than what the stats said she would be, and gave her the chance to make a difference in the lives of the children in the foster care system coming after her. I can’t even imagine how life-changing this program has to be for this girl, her 11 peers who were also a part of the program that summer and the 12 more who would come next year.
Every day since that night I’ve thought about how, while the foster care system in our country is far from perfect, while there are a lot of things that could be done better and reforms that need to be made, the system has not failed these children — we have. Well-meaning people, like you and me, who live our lives being nice and making sure our own kids are on the right track. We failed them by not seeing them, by not knowing these statistics, by not taking them into our homes and adopting them as our own. There are about 21,000 of these kids who will age out of the foster care system this year with no family to call their own.
OK, so, now that you know, what can you do? I realize becoming a foster parent or adopting an older child is not for everybody. You have to have the right supports and passion for it. You have to feel that tug, that calling. I want to say though, if you think maybe you can, then do it. Do the research, take the classes, read the books, prepare your heart and mind and then do it. There is a child or youth out there who needs you.
If you care about these kids, but don’t feel like fostering or adoption is right for you, love on one of these heroes in your midst. Support them, help them, honor them.
Also, you can donate. Money is needed to run programs like the Foster Youth Internship Program. Willie and I started a non-profit we call Drive Adoption. We started it to use this platform we have been given to raise awareness and to help fund organizations like CCAI who are doing the good, hard work on a daily basis.
To learn more about this work, read, educate yourself, talk about this amongst your friends, consider what you can do to help make a difference for these kids.
This article previously appeared in Adoption Today magazine.
Korie Robertson and her husband Willie starred on A&E’s “Duck Dynasty,” and they now serves on CCAI’s Board of Directors.