By U.S. Rep. BART GORDON
Since having our daughter Peyton in 2001, the role my wife Leslie plays as a mother helps me fully realize and appreciate the role mothers play in children’s lives. I also better recognize the great influence my own mother has had on me. My daughter is so fortunate to have a supportive and loving mother like I did.
As we celebrate Mother’s Day this month, we also celebrate National Foster Care Month. Every child, especially those in foster care, deserves a nurturing, supportive mother on their side as they confront the many challenges that come with growing up. Each year, more than 50,000 children are adopted out of foster care. This is great news – studies have shown that when it comes to indicators of school performance and social competency, in addition to health measures, adopted children share similarly high scores with children raised by their birth mother and father.
However, the unfortunate reality is that, nationally, there are more than 126,000 foster care children waiting to be adopted – close to 1,800 of these children are in Tennessee.
In most states, children have to leave the foster care system when they turn 18 years old, and the effects of not having a nurturing and supportive parent during their childhood often become apparent quickly. Each year, out of the 25,000 teens that “age out” of foster care nationwide, 25 percent become homeless, 56 percent become unemployed, and 27 percent of the males end up in jail.
Adoption should be a more feasible option for parents. During my time in Congress, I have worked to make the adoption process easier for deserving parents. Recently, I sponsored the Adoption Tax Relief Guarantee Act, which would make permanent a $10,000 tax credit for expenses related to adoptions.
Making a difference in a foster child’s life is not limited to adopting though. Success stories result from someone simply taking the time to offer comfort, provide support, give advice, or simply serve as a positive role model in a foster child’s life. Studies show that 44 percent of mentored teens in foster care are less likely to use drugs, and 59 percent have better academic performance. Children who spend time with a mentor also have better relationships with adults, fewer disciplinary referrals, and more confidence.
No matter how much time you have to give, you can do something positive that will change a lifetime for a young person in foster care. This month, we should think about our roles as parents and see how we can make a difference in a child’s life – as mothers and as mentors.
For more information on adoption in Tennessee, contact Tennessee’s Department of Children's Services at (877) 327-5437 or visit www.tn.gov/youth/adoption.htm. To learn more about becoming a mentor, call 1-866-516-LIFT or visit http://www.tn.gov/youth/mentoring/.
Editor’s Note: Mr. Gordon, D-Murfreesboro, represents the 6th Congressional District which includes part of Wilson County.