When Iowa attorney Stephanie Kozlowski began representing juvenile delinquents in court, she had no idea it would lead her to become a foster parent. She saw kids were entering the criminal justice system in many cases because of the challenges they faced at home. She also saw a significant need for foster parents and adoptive families in her community, caused largely by the opioid and meth crises. Stephanie knew she needed to get involved.
Along with her husband Craig, Stephanie earned her foster parenting license and began welcoming children in need into her home. During her first year as a foster parent, she met Sara, an energetic and fearless two-year-old. From the moment Sara came into their lives, Stephanie and Craig knew they couldn’t let her go. This April, they officially adopted Sara and gave her a forever home that includes a baby brother, a dog and a family full of love.
We’re currently observing National Adoption Week. It’s a time reserved for raising awareness of the urgent need for increased adoption in our country. There are thousands of children in Iowa and nationwide in foster care waiting to be adopted, and it’s critical we don’t forget about these deserving kids and do what we can to help and support them.
As the co-founder and co-chair of the Senate Caucus on Foster Youth, my work is inspired and informed by Iowans like Stephanie. The number of children in foster care continues to rise year after year, with over 442,000 children in foster care currently. In Iowa, the number of children in care increased by 7 percent from 2016 to 2017. Many factors contribute to the rise in the need for foster care and adoptive families, but one pressing reason is addiction. The opioid and meth crises have significantly affected communities across Iowa, leading to unstable living conditions for thousands of children.
With such a strong connection between addiction and child neglect and abuse, it’s critical that we address some of the root causes that lead to children entering the foster care system. In response to this crisis, Congress has passed legislation to provide more tools for families struggling with addiction. For example, the Family First Prevention Services Act provides access to services designed to keep families safely together, such as substance abuse treatment counseling and mental health services. It works by allowing states to use child welfare funding that’s typically only available after a child has already been placed in foster care. Congress also passed the Building Capacity for Family Focused Residential Treatment Act, a bill I introduced that became law in 2018. This law authorizes funding to support families struggling with substance abuse and helps improve the well-being of children by making sure more programs serve parents and children at the same time.
Though the goal is always to keep families together, it is not always possible. That’s why it’s important that adoption be straightforward and efficient. In 2008, I introduced and Congress passed the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act. This law provides more support for states to move children from foster care to adoptive homes. It also makes it easier for foster children to be permanently cared for by their own relatives. Foster care was never meant to be a permanent destination for a child, and this law has helped children get out of foster care and into their forever homes.
I’ve also been involved in other important steps we’ve taken to help children in foster care, such as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. The law preserved the Adoption Tax Credit, making it easier for families who want to adopt children from foster care to do so. Earlier this year, along with Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), I reintroduced the Childhood Outcomes Need New Efficient Community Teams (CONNECT) Act. As Stephanie saw firsthand as an attorney representing minors in the justice system, there is a significant overlap of children both in the juvenile justice and child welfare systems. This bill authorizes grants to help these two systems collect data on children involved with both to increase our understanding of the challenges they face and improve the agencies’ ability to effectively help these at-risk children.
Foster parents also play an important role in our society. A loving and nurturing home is essential for future generations to learn, grow and become productive members of society. If you feel you can open your heart and home to a child in foster care, I urge you to learn more at adoptuskids.org. Whether it’s providing school supplies to families in need, opening your heart and home to foster youth or, like Stephanie, giving a child their forever home, you can be the one to make a difference in a child’s life.
Grassley is the senior senator from Iowa and co-founder and co-chair of the Senate Caucus on Foster Youth.