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Last year, almost 30,000 children turned 18 and left the foster care system without an adoptive family. They were left to fend for themselves at ages when most of us have the needed guidance and safety net of parents and other relatives.

Right now, more than 114,000 children are available for adoption across our country. In the state of Michigan, there are about 3,000 yearning for their “forever family,” at any given time, with 300 waiting without an identified adoptive home.

Considering that the average age of a child waiting for adoption is 8, and that child has waited an average of three years to be adopted, it’s important to consider why older children should be considered for adoption more than the cute babies that most couples prefer.

Older children wait, and wait, and wait to find a home and a family that will love them, no matter what. At the same time, little kids are turned away every day — especially when they come in sibling groups of twos and threes. Many couples dream of a cute baby to bring home and call their own, but when they come with 3-year-old and 5-year-old siblings, are they still as attractive?

Since November is National Adoption Month, intended to build awareness for the needs of orphaned children in our country, I’d like to share a few thoughts about what we can do to find families for American children who have been forgotten.

Children don’t ask to be born. They come to life dependent on the grace and guidance of adults. So when adults make poor choices and neglect the most basic responsibilities of caring for our youth, we are all left to pick up the mantle and provide what they need, with the hope of supporting children on the path toward a productive life of connection and community.

Adoption is only one in a mix of non-traditional families. Look around your community and you’ll see a landscape of family structures: divorced, step, foster, single, same-sex couples and grandparents raising grandchildren.

Adoptive families embrace their children’s heritage, retain a connection to their racial, ethnic and cultural roots, integrate those elements into their families, and long to be welcomed into these diverse communities.

Two of Lutheran Social Services for Michigan’s (LSSM) programs, foster care and adoption, go hand in hand. Our goal for foster care is to facilitate the reunification of a child with his/her family whenever possible.

That said, we ask prospective foster parents upfront whether they are interested in adopting, so that children can be placed into only one family if they are not reunified with their birth family. Most are; and that’s a good thing, because often children who are removed from their birth families do end up needing a permanent placement.

Adopting from foster care is rewarding, affordable and permanent. However, because so many of our foster parents end up adopting their foster children, we are in constant need of families willing to take in children for foster care.

The joys and challenges of adoptive parenting are the same as biological parenting. In Michigan, there are no home study fees for a child adopted from the child welfare system. A family is only responsible to pay the fees for the court to process the adoption papers — a nominal fee.

What most families are not aware of is that children adopted from foster care typically come with a post-adoption monthly subsidy. Most child welfare agencies cover the costs of home studies and court fees, and provide post-adoption subsidies.

Thousands of employers offer financial reimbursement and paid leave for employees who adopt, and there are federal and state adoption tax credits available to most families. Adopting a child from foster care is affordable, unlike other types of adoptions.

There are many ways to form a “forever family.” Nearly 40 percent of American adults have considered adopting a child, according to the National Adoption Attitudes Survey. If just one in 500 of these adults adopted, every waiting child in foster care would have a permanent family.

For 19 years, America has been devoting the month of November to promoting and publicizing the dire need for children in our country to be adopted from foster care. There are so many American children without a safety net, lacking the love and guidance of an intact birth family.

So many childless couples travel far and wide around the globe to find their family when it is so easy and affordable to build a loving, beautiful family right here on American soil.

No family is perfect. Even biological children can provide challenges and turmoil to their parents. Adoptive parents are the first to say how glad they are that they welcomed their children into their homes, and into their hearts.

As we celebrate National Adoption Month, remember the children who are deserving of a loving, permanent home, and think about where you would be today if you hadn’t had the guidance and support of family in your life.

Vickie Thompson-Sandy is interim CEO and chief service officer for Lutheran Social Services of Michigan.

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