I encourage Iowans who are in a position to do so, to consider becoming foster parents to help kids in their community.
“What would happen if we said no?” Chris and Emily Norton asked themselves when they considered accepting their first foster care placement — a 17-year-old girl who had no options left, and would be placed in a group home unless a family was identified. Native Iowans Chris and Emily Norton have adopted six children, including a sibling group of four. In total, they have fostered 18 kids.
Chris Norton might be a familiar name to Iowans — after becoming paralyzed during a football game at Luther College, he inspired countless others by overcoming all odds and walking across the stage at graduation. This year, I nominated Chris and Emily Norton for the annual Angels in Adoption Award. It recognizes individuals who have made a difference through adoption. Despite the challenges caused by Chris’s injury, the Nortons made the decision to do what it takes to help kids in need.
In communities across our state, kids are in a similar situation faced by the Nortons’ daughter. In nearly every state, the need for foster parents outstrips the foster families. That means vulnerable youth are left in limbo. Foster youth may sleep in offices and hotels with no place to call home.
In my role as co-founder and co-chair of the Senate Caucus on Foster Youth, I make it a priority to hear from young adults and teenagers who experienced foster care. Young people can and should be their own advocates. Their stories are all different, but one theme is always the same. These kids want a permanent place to call home. They want a mom and a dad.
In Iowa, there are nearly 6,000 kids in foster care. That tells me the urgency exists for more foster families to care for them. A couple from Ames answered the call in their hometown. Alexandria and Taylor Hinders took the leap to become licensed foster parents. They say their goal was never to adopt, but rather to step in and help both the kids who needed to be placed in foster care temporarily, and their biological families.
While adoption and foster care are linked, about half of the nation’s 400,000 youth in foster care will be reunited with their biological families. Foster care is intended to be a temporary placement while the circumstances that precipitated the need to remove children from their homes are resolved.
The Hinderses made a point to send pictures of the kids in their care to their biological parents, and above all else, listen with compassion, and without judgment. They say it’s important for families considering foster care to know that reunification is the goal in most cases, and that foster parents play an important role in helping to facilitate the connection between the children in their care and the biological families.
However, a longer-term placement of twins with the Hinderses led to their adoption. The Hinderses had been open to the possibility of adoption, if that was the best option to minimize disruptions and find permanency for the kids. They say the adoption brought joy, as well as sorrow for the loss of the connection between their children and their biological family. In Iowa, 32% of the exits from foster care are due to adoption.
The Hinderses say it’s important for foster families to know about the challenges going in, and the possibility for difficult situations, and complicated emotions to arise. While adoption through foster care can bring the joy of permanency and love to the lives of kids in the system, the trauma of abuse, neglect, and removal can bring challenges.
“It’s saying yes to hurt,” says Alexandria. “It’s a willingness to do something hard.”
Foster parents are a vital piece of our child welfare system. I salute the Nortons, the Hinderses, and all who have opened their homes and hearts to children in need. National Adoption Month has been observed in November for more than a quarter century as a time to bring awareness to the hundreds of thousands of kids who are waiting for their forever family. This month, I encourage Iowans who are in a position to do so, to consider becoming foster parents to help kids in their community. In Iowa, applicants must be age 21 and older, and complete the background check and training. For more information, Iowans should contact Four Oaks or Lutheran Services in Iowa.