“I shouldn’t be getting this award -- my kids should be getting this award,” Delilah Rene Luke said as she was being inducted in the National Council for Adoption’s Adoption Hall of Fame.
You may know the name Delilah from her syndicated radio show -- she is self-described “Queen of Sappy Love Songs,” with some 9 million listeners. She’s also the mother of 13 children, 10 of whom are adopted. As she tells the story, she only intended on adopting one child -- “maybe two.” But then she started hearing horror stories about what happens to children when they are stuck in foster care.
“My kids should be getting this award because they went through hell and they survived,” she explained. “They survived the foster-care system. My kids from Africa survived situations you guys wouldn’t even believe if I told you. ... Not only that, they are awesome people, wonderful human beings -- much better than I am. If I had gone through what they went through I would not be kind, I would not be loving.”
Her adoption story begins when she and her husband were matched up with a little boy and arranged to take him and his siblings camping. In the middle of the night, his younger brother “reached his little hand” from across his sleeping bag and asked Delilah: “I was just wondering: Could I call you mom, too, since I don’t have a mom?”
Both those boys, 9 and 11, had been in foster care for over five years – the 11-year-old with 11 placements, the 9-year-old, seven. “I went from being a mom of two to being a mom of five in a six-month span.”
“For some reason, our governmental systems think that it is better to leave children languishing in foster care so that the birth parent can have opportunity after opportunity after opportunity after opportunity to abuse them and break their hearts while they are moved again and again and again.”
This is tough stuff to hear. And it doesn’t take away from the selflessness of parents who realize they are not in the best position to care for their children and the generosity of foster families who make room in their homes for children temporarily. Delilah was speaking in Washington, D.C., which gave her words extra resonance. Present at the event were some key administration officials, congressional staff, and activists. One of the “Friend of Adoption” awardees was the Democrat mayor of the nation's capital, Muriel Bowser, who had just won re-election; she’s the single adoptive mother of Miranda.
Delilah was especially passionate talking about the almost 20,000 children who aged out of foster care in the United States last year, pointing out the majority of them tend to wind up in jail before they are 25 years old.
“How many of you have 18/19/20-year-olds right now?” she asked those gathered. "Are they capable of navigating life on their own? Without health-care insurance? Without a place to live? Without a life plan? Without a mom to call when they just got in a fender bender? How is that OK?”
The National Council for Adoption exists “to ensure that more children are adopted from foster care, that women facing unintended pregnancy receive comprehensive information on the positive option of adoption, and that intercountry adoption remains a viable, ethical option for building families.” Its hall of fame includes Democrats and Republicans, sports stars and Dave Thomas, founder of Wendy’s.
The clock is ticking for children in foster care, for frightened pregnant women who feel like there is no one who will help them. Our feelings about the state of the world aside, they need families; they need the kind of radical hospitality that can transform lives.
There are children alive today who need help, birth mothers who need an out. They deserve an opportunity for a family and some semblance of stability. Our country may just need their lives and resilience. We can’t let them continue to suffer. We can’t let them be unrealized gifts.