This is the time of year when many families in Maryland go “home for the holidays.” We plan our flights, pack our bags, and look for ways to avoid sitting in traffic, all so we can enjoy some precious time with loved ones. In the process, we often take for granted that we have a place that we can call home.
A home is about so much more than a structure or the point on a map – it’s about the loved ones inside; a family that is forever.
Today, for the 6,709 children in Maryland awaiting adoption, home is something they dream of each and every day. For these children, the holidays can be a painful reminder that they have no permanent home of their own.
Adoption is a personal issue for me. When I think of these children, I can’t help but think about my own son, Jonathan. I became an adoptive parent 12 years ago when Jonathan came home to our family. When I look at him today, as I have for the past decade, I see the hope and dreams, the aspirations and opportunity that are possible when you open your home and your heart to a child who needs you in their life.
Children like Jonathan are the reason why Governor O’Malley and I have made improving outcomes for children who need permanent homes a priority. We believe that every child in Maryland, whether they live in Baltimore or Bethesda, should have the chance to grow up in a safe and loving home. A home that they can forever call “my place.”
It was with this goal in mind that five years ago, we launched Place Matters – a comprehensive effort to reform child welfare in our state. And we’ve seen some great success: since 2007, almost 3,200 children have been placed in permanent homes through adoption, guardianship or reunification with family, and we’ve reduced the number of children in foster care by 35 percent.
For these children, the future is brighter than ever before. While children in foster care often survive life’s challenges, children placed for adoption out of foster care have a better chance to actually thrive in life.
Children adopted out of foster care into a permanent home are 21 percent less likely to be suspended or expelled from school, 23 percent more likely to finish high school or get a GED, 20 percent less likely to be a teen parent, 200 percent more likely to receive mental health services when necessary, and 50 percent less likely to be arrested.
On the other hand, children who remain in care until they “age out” of the system when they turn 21 are more likely to find themselves in low wage jobs or unemployed, struggling with mental health issues or substance abuse. Some will likely end up homeless.
Through our Ready by 21 initiative, we’re helping those who age out of foster care find stable, safe housing and linking them to needed employment, education, and health services. But for all of our progress, there’s still work to be done.
This past November, we celebrated National Adoption Month, which gave us our perennial four weeks to raise awareness about adoption and the need to find permanent homes for all of our children. We organized programs and events that drew attention to our work, with the hope that someone would hear about our children and consider becoming an adoptive parent.
But one month is not enough.
Every month should be Adoption Month in Maryland until all 6,709 of our children have a home of their own. Each of us bears a responsibility to protect and care for all of the children in our community, and that begins with those who are most vulnerable and in need of a home.
So my request is simple this holiday season: find a way to make a child in need part of your life. Become a mentor, get involved in youth employment programs, or teach a financial literacy class. And if you’re able, consider adopting or becoming a resource parent. It’s the best gift you can provide this holiday season. It’s also the only gift where you’ll always get back so much more than you have given. My son Jonathan is a daily reminder of the gift of adoption.
For additional information: http://www.dhr.state.md.us
As an adoptive parent, Lt. Governor Brown recognizes that the most important factor in a child’s life is a stable, loving home in which he or she can laugh, learn and thrive. Throughout the year, he visits churches across the state to encourage Marylanders to consider expanding their families through adoption.