For House Republican Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), National Foster Care Month is an opportunity to advocate for foster youth with cognitive, emotional, and physical disabilities, and to celebrate their potential.
The Ubachs of Clarkston, Washington, are like many other families. They have family dinners. They celebrate birthdays, milestones, and holidays together.
But unlike many other families, the Ubachs did not all start as Ubachs.
Over the last 16 years, Matt and Lisa Ubachs have fostered child after child in need – thirty in the past five years alone. Many of these children struggled with disabilities, including autism, cerebral palsy, and diabetes.
Theirs is the story of families across the United States who welcome vulnerable children into their homes – and into their hearts.
And I’m grateful to have their daughter, Jessie, on my staff in my Spokane office. Through their story, we can understand that there is always more love to give. And always more children in need of a home.
Nationally there are roughly 400,000 children in the foster care system, with around 8,700 in Washington State alone.
Foster care and adoption are complicated and often confusing, but more so for a certain group; a group that is particularly close to my heart: the disability community.
My son, Cole, was born with Down syndrome. It isn’t what you hope for as a parent. It certainly isn’t what you expect. But seeing my now nine-year-old son thrive is a daily reminder to me of the potential of every human being – if they were only given a chance.
Children with disabilities are harder to place, to be adopted.
Between 35 and 60 percent of foster children have at least one chronic medical condition, and about 40 to 60 percent have at least one mental health disorder. 25 percent suffer from PTSD, on par with returning war veterans.
And statistically, the older the child is, the more difficult it becomes to place them with an adoptive family. This hindrance is only exacerbated when an emotional, cognitive, or physical disability is added to the equation.
According to a study published by the Journal of Social Work, children with disabilities – the children that require extra care and individualized attention – are at an enormous disadvantage.
They face several of the stereotypes associated with foster children: that they are difficult to handle, emotionally distant, possibly violent, and so on.
But as any adoptive or foster parent will tell you – there are no unwanted children. Just unfound families.
Last summer, when we marked the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, there was a renewed emphasis on empowering those with disabilities to live independent lives. But there is still more work to be done, especially with overcoming stigmas, and this extends to our foster youth and alumni.
Since 2012, when the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth formed, Republicans and Democrats have come together to help protect foster youth as they transition from school to school, address human trafficking, and provide stability.
The mental health of these young men and women needs to be a priority as well. With mental health problems and medicating highly prevalent among foster youth, we need to identify those who require further care and ensure they receive it. The House is working on legislation to address our broken mental health system, and the foster care perspective should be taken into consideration as we move forward.
While foster youth face unique challenges, there is also reason for hope. This week I had the privilege of spending a day with a remarkable young man named Noah, a former foster youth from Spokane, Washington.
Noah was in 16 different foster homes before he turned 18. He is second generation and today, as a 24-year-old, has graduated with an audio engineering degree. He turned from being angry, on prescription drugs, and lacking hope to an individual who has graduated from college, is working, and has dreams of helping others in foster care.
Foster Youth Shadow Day is an incredible opportunity for former foster youth to meet directly with a Member of Congress and their staff – to see how the People’s House operates and what we are working on. More importantly, it is a profound opportunity for us to hear from them.
It is our duty to be the people’s voice in representative government – their power.
I think back to an interview that Leigh Anne Tuohy, mother of Super Bowl winning football player Michael Oher and inspiration for the movie The Blind Side, did a few years ago. She said that she and her husband didn’t make Michael become the wonderful person that he grew up to be. All they did was help him reach that point.
With an open mind, an open heart, and a little patience, foster and adoptive families can help these boys and girls grow into the men and women they’re meant to be.
Together we can act. Together we can advocate. And together, we can help every man, woman, and child in this country reach their potential and pursue their version of the American Dream.