Engineer Inclusion

Adopting a Teenager from Foster Care: A Journey Fueled by Love and Purpose

Embarking on the journey of adopting a child from Texas’ foster care system is no small feat. It’s a path filled with challenges, emotions, and moments of doubt. However, as I navigated through this transformative experience, I stumbled upon a profound reminder of why I chose this path in the first place: love and the urgent need to be part of the solution.

The Heartfelt Quest

Since August 2022, I’ve been tirelessly working towards adopting a child from the Texas foster care system. The journey has been a rollercoaster, with highs and lows testing my determination. A couple of weeks ago, when I felt stalled and discouraged, fate sent me a potential match. It was a pivotal moment that forced me to confront my doubts and make a life-altering decision.

In my desperate search for answers, despair casting shadows on my purpose, I turned to Google and asked, “Why should I adopt a teenager?” I scoured several websites and even consulted ChatGPT, seeking guidance. The resounding message I received from all sources, including the AI, was that this journey would be arduous but undeniably meaningful.

My takeaway was simple yet profound:

The Troubling Reality

Before delving further into my journey, let’s take a moment to understand the problem we’re addressing:

  1. At the end of 2021, 65,000 children in the United States were waiting to be adopted after parental rights had been terminated.
  2. In Texas alone, over 7,000 children are waiting for adoption, their only permanency plan being adoption.
  3. More than 23,000 children age out of the U.S. foster care system annually, with over 1,000 youth aging out in Texas.
  4. After turning 18, 20% of former foster youth become homeless.
  5. Only half of foster youth who age out of the system secure gainful employment by the age of 24.
  6. Less than 3% of these youth earn a college degree at any point in their lives.
  7. A startling 70% of girls who age out of foster care become pregnant before the age of 21.

(Source: HHS.gov, Buckner.org, NFYI.org)

Privatization and the Foster Care to Prison Pipeline

One aspect that greatly troubles me is how Texas outsources case management services for foster care to mostly “faith-based” care agencies, effectively privatizing the system. This privatization echoes the troubling parallels seen in some prison systems. As a result, we witness the emergence of a direct pipeline from foster care to the juvenile justice system, aka foster-care-to-prison-pipeline. (Source: Justice Policy Journal)

By the age of 17, over 50% of foster children will encounter the juvenile legal system through arrest, conviction, or detention. Furthermore, 25% of youth in foster care will become entangled with the criminal legal system within two years of leaving foster care. Shockingly, if a child has moved between five or more placements, their risk of involvement with the criminal legal system soars to a staggering 90%.

(Source: CrimLawPractitioner.org)

A Bleak Future and the Call to Action

As the nation grapples with debates over women’s rights and limited abortion access, we’ll likely see more children entering the foster care system. An already overwhelmed system struggles to serve and house these vulnerable young lives. The child I was just matched with had to endure weeks in a government office and, finally, a hotel because there was nowhere else for her to go. (She is in a foster home now, though.)

It raises a poignant question: When do we, as a society, truly step up to support those who are born and vulnerable? And when we DO step up, why does the system fail to promptly place these children in loving homes?

A New Hope

This year-long and not soon-to-be-over journey has made me deeply critical of “the system.” Still, I’m also acutely aware that my words could jeopardize my privilege of adopting a child. So, instead of sharing my opinions, I want to leave you with an uplifting thought.

Consider this: By opening your heart and home to a child in need, you can change their life in ways you can’t even imagine. Despite the challenges and flaws in the system, the love and care you provide can make an indelible impact on a young life.

In the face of daunting statistics and a complex system, remember this: Your love can be the guiding light for a child in the darkness of uncertainty. And that, my friends, is why adopting a teenager from foster care is a journey worth taking.

Headshot of Dr. Meagan Pollock

Meagan Pollock, PhD

Dr. Meagan Pollock envisions a world where personal and social circumstances are not obstacles to achieving potential, and where kindness, inclusivity, and conservation prevail.

An international speaker, teacher, engineer, and equity leader, her mission is to provide services, tools, and resources that inspire awareness and initiate action.

As an engineer turned educator, Meagan Pollock is focused on engineering equity into education and the workforce.

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