America’s attitudes on adoption are changing

US Harris report coverBy Rita Soronen
President and CEO

We hear it every day. “Adopt out of foster care? No, the system is just such a mess.” Or, “I’d like to think about it, but honestly I’ve heard all these kids have problems.” Or, “It’s just too expensive.”

Why adults consider foster care adoption or choose not to adopt from foster care may be driven by direct experience, word of mouth, or simple misperceptions they may have about the system or the children who are waiting to be adopted.

In 2001, when the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption looked at the typical messaging around foster care adoption, we learned that for the most part it was “shoot from the hip” marketing, crisis-based communications, or photo listings of children. There was a lack of solid, accurate, or actionable data on how adults viewed adoption in the United States.

In an effort to both understand perceptions about foster care adoption and then respond appropriately, we began working with Harris Interactive to perform a national survey on Americans’ attitudes on adoption. We did it again in 2007, and have just released the third National Foster Care Adoption Attitudes Survey.

These national surveys have not only helped the Foundation to strategically create programs and awareness campaigns that address myths and misperceptions, but have also elevated a national conversation about the responsibility we all share to ensure that every child waiting to be adopted is placed with a family – not just some of the children, but all of the 104,000 children.

Over the last five years, Americans’ positive opinions of foster care adoption have grown. The percentage of adults considering any form of adoption has decreased slightly since 2007 (from 28 percent to 24 percent). This year, though, the percentage of Americans who have a positive opinion of foster care adoption grew more than the percentage of international or private infant adoption, which actually saw declines. Make no mistake; we celebrate all adoptions regardless of a child’s age or the border that defines them. But the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption’s mission is to focus on children in America’s foster care system, so for the work of the Foundation and for the children in America’s foster care system, this is good news.

But there is much more work to do. We have consistently found that Americans wrongly believe that children are in foster care because they have done something wrong. Again this year, we found that half of Americans are convinced that children are in care because they are “juvenile delinquents.” Of course, nothing could be farther from the truth, but we need to be clearer about why these children are in care – because they have been abused, neglected, abandoned or harmed.

In this year’s survey, we asked participants if they believed that every child is adoptable. A small majority (51%) said yes. Again, our job in messaging, marketing and communications is to reinforce the notion that every child is adoptable and that each child waiting to be adopted deserves a family of his or her own.

Evidence-based efforts are critical to the work of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. When we set out to prove that our child-focused adoption recruitment methods were successful, we learned that we have up to three times the rate of success as other adoption methods. By sharing our adoption model and making this kind of information available, we are turning “business as usual” on its head for children in foster care waiting to be adopted.

With these findings, will continue to inform Americans about children in foster care, continue to educate adoption professionals about the best way to serve children, and continue to advocate for better policies that will move these children out of the system and into families.

The 2013 National Foster Care Adoption Attitudes Survey also reminds us that a louder national conversation about how we better serve our children is essential to living up to what should be our unbreakable promise to them – that we will find them the families they deserve. And as our founder, Dave Thomas reminded us, it is simply the right thing to do.

A version of this post also ran on the Chronicle of Social Change.

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