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Center for Lived Experience

Our Lived Experience Network in Action

Written by
Jen Zug
Communications Team - Think of Us
June 2, 2022
Demetrius Napolitano re-entered the foster care system after a failed adoption.

Think of Us and CEO Sixto Cancel helped inform a series of USA Today articles reporting on their investigations into children entering the foster care system following failed adoptions – the problem, the impact to young people, and how, despite an awareness of the broken system, there is little movement toward finding tangible solutions. 

Trigger warning: the articles contain details of abuse and neglect.

“More than 66,000 adoptees ended up in the foster care system between 2008 and 2020,” USA TODAY uncovered through its analysis of data across 16 states. “Black children face a more than 50% greater risk than white children of having their adoptions fail and returning to foster care.”

Additionally, critical support is limited to non-existent for families with adoptees who struggle with mental health challenges, physical disabilities, or the effects of childhood trauma.

In the series, Sixto shares his own experience of what it felt like to consider the implications of adoption.     

“I was 9 years old when the judge looked at me and was like, ‘Do you want to be adopted?’” Cancel recalled. “And I had wanted to say no so bad.” 
Adoption … meant wrapping his mind around the idea of replacing his biological parents and siblings with a new family.” 

Sixto later experienced a failed adoption and returned to the foster care system, eventually aging out.

The series features survey responses from over 27,000 current and former foster youth in our Lived Experience Network:

 “An informal survey of more than 27,000 current and former foster youth by the research and development lab Think of Us found that young people from failed adoptions fared worse than others from the foster care system. They were more likely to find themselves couch surfing, homeless or hungry.”

Building on our engagement with more than 38,000 people with lived experience in 2020 and 2021, Think of Us launched the Center for Lived Experience™ to create proximity between decision-makers and “lived experts” to drive lasting change. We’re continuing to grow this community among current and former foster youth, bio parents, and kinship caregivers who can be mobilized to co-design strategies that address challenges in the child welfare system. 

Our government infrastructure does not have sufficient data or connection to the day-to-day realities of what youth and families face in the system. But if people with lived experience are involved in every step of decision-making, the problems in child welfare can be better understood and addressed, creating a better future for generations to come. 

Learn more about the Center for Lived Experience™ here.