A challenge for the community

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With a community challenge, Children Awaiting Parents hopes to underscore the difficulty of placing foster children in permanent homes. 

The agency’s first Foster to Forever: CAP Challenge for 125 Thousand calls on people to join a free three-month event to raise awareness of the 125,000 children in the United States who are waiting for a family.

In Monroe County, there are just under 500 youth in foster care, says Lauri McKnight, executive director of Children Awaiting parents. 

“Of that number, any of the children could be either waiting for an adoptive family, or waiting to be returned to their birth family,” she says. “In 2020, New York State had approximately 3,050 youth waiting to be adopted.”

Nationally, the coronavirus outbreak has made it even tougher to place children. Chicago, for example, saw a 33 percent increase in the number of children awaiting homes. In Los Angeles, the pandemic has created hurdles to education and stability for youth in foster care.

Lauri McKnight

Locally, the impact of the pandemic on foster children has yet to be assessed, McKnight says.  

The Foster to Forever challenge uses physical activity to increase awareness about these young individuals. Through activities like walking, running, swimming or skiing, participants can log their efforts in steps, miles or minutes. CAP will then convert the activity into miles.

“After a long, COVID winter, it also gives the community the opportunity to get outside and get moving, while thinking of how much the 125,000 kids want to move from ‘foster to forever,’” McKnight says. 

The goal: reach 125,000 miles by the end of May, National Foster Care Month. At the end of the challenge, the top three participants with the most miles will receive public recognition and a special gift card.

The Rochester Beacon posed some questions to McKnight about the challenge and the need to raise awareness about foster children. Her answers are below.

ROCHESTER BEACON: What has the last year been like for CAP? 

LAURI McKNIGHT: Our entire process slowed down immensely. During the early months of COVID-19, were unable to place children, adoptions were held up in the courts—which were closed early on, children weren’t allowed to move, and families were afraid of bringing COVID into their homes. We are now regrouping and making strategic decisions on coming back from both the financial and placement impact.

ROCHESTER BEACON: How will you measure the campaign’s success locally? 

McKNIGHT: Personally, I would define success as participation by our community indicating that awareness was achieved by individuals, partners, organizations, and companies. Also, the cumulative number of miles tracked demonstrates attention to the cause and engagement. Though we set the goal to attain, I’m less concerned with actually reaching the full 125,000 miles—it will speak to the community of the difficulty in finding enough forever families. 

ROCHESTER BEACON: What are some of the common misconceptions about adoption?  

McKNIGHT: Great question! Many families believe the cost is too high, or that they need to have a large income. That is a myth. If families can maintain their own standard of living and safely add a child into that economic level, income should not be an issue. They do not need to own their own home or have high-paying salaries. Some families are fearful of taking on a non-biological child because of the problems they think may occur, or because the child may have experienced trauma and have “undesirable” behaviors. This is understandable. But the majority of children are in care because of their family’s failure to meet the child’s needs. Most children adjust well to a new family and go on to thrive in their new, loving permanency. Plus, CAP works closely with families from pre- through post-adoption to help pave the way for success.

ROCHESTER BEACON: How can communities like Rochester move the needle? 

MKNIGHT: The needle will only be moved by greater awareness generated in the community, and the value placed on finding children forever families. In many communities, adoption is not at the top of the most pressing social issues. However, when a child lacking family support ages out of the system, society becomes burdened with the care of the youth as an adult.

Most youth in foster care have—or will suffer from—some sort of trauma, resulting in mental health concerns and a lack of independent living skills. A large percentage end up homeless, incarcerated, or becoming young parents. Awareness is key, but action is necessary! When the community recognizes the importance ensuring that our future generations become capable of living successfully without being a drain on the system, the needle will move. 

This will take funding for organizations like CAP who can make the difference in a child’s future by providing them a forever family with the support and guidance every youth needs. CAP family recruitment, intensive support services, and community partnerships are the key to moving the needle in a positive direction.

Smriti Jacob is Rochester Beacon managing editor.

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