By Steve Brawner
© 2015 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.
After Andrew Rodgers Jr. was adopted, he changed not only his last name but also his first.
The 15-year-old had grown up as “Marcus,” but that name was part of a childhood that saw him placed in foster care and moved from home to home. Separated from his three siblings, hope seemed in short supply. After he and two of his siblings were adopted by Andrew and Sabrina Rodgers of Maumelle, he decided to change his name.
“I was excited to be named after my father,” he said.
That father, Andrew Rodgers Sr., grew up in a Mississippi home with 23 brothers and sisters. Before 2011, he and Sabrina had no children. Now they have six, all adopted, including Andrew Jr. and two of his siblings.
The family was featured in a ceremony at the Pulaski County Juvenile Court building Nov. 19 marking National Adoption Day, which was two days later. With his children by his side, the elder Rodgers described what he called “an amazing journey.”
“It has been a time where we must commit, a time when we must be patient with each other, a time when we become the student, and we let the children be the teacher,” he said. “They teach us how to love. They teach us how to understand. They teach us how to prepare ourselves for a life-changing event, which is simply being called Mama and Daddy.”
The Department of Human Services’ Division of Children and Family Services finalized 711 adoptions last year. This year, the focus is on older children, the theme being, “We never outgrow the need for family.” Of the 600 Arkansas children who are legally free to be adopted, 39 percent are above age 10, and more than half of those are at least 14. The average length of stay in foster care for those children ages 10-up is 4.6 years, and their chances of adoption fall each day until they age out of the system. As DCFS Director Cecile Blucker explained, 204 children reached age 18 in fiscal year 2015. Of those, 128 chose to leave the system; the rest stayed to take advantage of state transitional services offered up to age 21.
Two-thirds of foster children will move seven or more times while in the system, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Many who age out enter adulthood lacking a permanent support system. They don’t have a permanent family to guide them through high school and their late teenage years. They don’t have a parent who understands their abilities and who shares their hopes and dreams. No one is there to help them file their tax return, or point them to a trusted car salesman, or warn them if they are headed in the wrong direction, or provide a home if things don’t work out at first. And so, within four years of aging out, 25 percent have been homeless, less than half have graduated high school, 80 percent can’t support themselves and yet 42 percent have become parents. Adults who have been in foster care suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder at double the rate of combat veterans.
There are organizations in Arkansas that provide that needed support for a small number of these young people, including central Arkansas-based Immerse Arkansas (www.immersearkansas.org) and Northwest Arkansas-based Saving Grace (www.savinggracenwa.org).
Their leaders would agree that the better alternative is for their services never to be needed. Working to put Immerse Arkansas and Saving Grace out of business by finding adoptive homes for foster children are The CALL (thecallinarkansas.org), Project Zero (http://theprojectzero.org), and the state’s Department of Human Services, whose Arkansas Heart Gallery features photos of children waiting to be adopted at dhs.arkansas.gov/dcfs/heartgallery.
Were it not for Andrew Rodgers Sr., then Andrew Rodgers Jr. might have ended up as part of the problem. Instead, he plans to be part of the solution. Someday, he said, he’ll “most definitely” be an adoptive parent himself.
Balloons were released into the sky at the event Nov. 19 – red to signify those like Andrew who have been adopted, and blue signifying those waiting for that opportunity. The balloons were different colors, but they had this in common: They flew away.
So do young people. The question is, how many of them will have a home to come back to?