12:15 P.M. EST
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you, Secretary Azar. And to the Secretary, to Surgeon General Jerome Adams, Assistant Secretary Lynn Johnson, the Associate Commissioner Jerry Milner, to all the many families gathered here and those looking on who've answered the call to open your hearts and your homes: It is wonderful to be here at HHS and to be a part of the most pro-adoption administration in American history. (Applause.)
And I want to thank each and every one of you for the role that you're playing. And especially, I want to congratulate the honorees who will be recognized as a part of this program today.
Each and every one of you have opened your homes and opened your hearts to become forever families. And I want you to know that you have the respect of this President, of his Vice President, and of the American people. And I offer my heartfelt congratulations.
I also want to -- I also want to express appreciation to the Secretary of HHS. He and I worked together in the state of Indiana. He's a man who has built an extraordinary career. But I know of no one in this administration with a greater heart for American families than Secretary Alex Azar. Would you join me in thanking him for his great work? (Applause.) You can get on your feet if you feel as strongly about him as I do. Secretary Alex Azar, everybody. (Applause.) And the whole HHS team deserves that same round of applause.
And there's so many good friends in the room, but there's one friend I haven't seen for a little while. She and I both served as governors of our home state and she emerged as a national leader. And her faith and her dedication to family has literally inspired millions of Americans. And I'm not surprised that when we were talking about adoption, Governor Sarah Palin had to be with us today. Governor Palin, thank you so much for joining us and for your great support of adoptive families across America. (Applause.)
And speaking of friends of mine, allow me to bring greetings from another friend of mine who is a great champion of American families and a strong champion of adoption and adoptive families. I bring greetings and the admiration of the 45th President of the United States of America, President Donald Trump. (Applause.)
You know, in his proclamation on this National Adoption Month, President Trump acknowledged, in his words, that, "Every child -- born and unborn -- is uniquely gifted by their Creator and endowed with both [the] potential and immeasurable value," and that, in this month, we, as Americans "recognize the loving and devoted individuals who are part of God's plan for every child by taking a role as a parent through adoption."
For the last quarter century, Americans all across this country have taken time during this month to celebrate adoptive families and to celebrate adoption in this country. In November 1984, President Ronald Reagan marked the very first National Adoption Week to encourage a national effort to promote the adoption of children, and particularly children with special needs.
And just a few years later, this week was expanded into an entire month. And today's gathering here at HHS is just one more installment in the admiration and gratitude the American people feel to all of our adoptive families.
Every year since, leaders in government, industry, and faith communities have come together to raise awareness for the need to help vulnerable children to find permanent families and forever homes. And since the first day of this administration, under the leadership of this President, and with the hard work of all the dedicated men and women here at HHS, I'm proud to say that we've been working tirelessly to advance that vision to strengthen families and support the most vulnerable among us, including, we've been working every day to reduce the need for children to enter foster care in the first place. (Applause.)
Last year, President Trump signed into law the Family First Prevention Act, which matches federal funds with state programs to help parents get the help they need to keep their children at home, to keep them safe from substance abuse and the challenges of mental illness. It's expanded resources to combat substance abuse and provide mental health services and family counseling at the state level across this country.
And as the President said at the time, "Providing a stable, [and] secure, and nurturing home environment is one of the greatest gifts a parent or [a] guardian can give to a child." That also includes a foster parent. And when it becomes necessary for children to be placed in foster care, this legislation made it easier than ever for states to find safe, loving families to care for them.
And I'm proud to report that, this year, for the first time in nearly 10 years, we've actually seen the number of children placed in foster care decline across America. (Applause.) We're keeping families together and addressing the real needs and challenges they face.
In fact, last year, more children than ever -- that more children than ever were not only -- not only -- excuse me, let me say, last year, we saw a decline in the number of children going to foster care. But maybe most encouraging to everyone gathered here at this important celebration: Last year, more children than ever were adopted from foster care, as well, to forever families. (Applause.) It's amazing to think, because of the generosity and the large-heartedness of families just like those we're celebrating today, more than 63,000 children found their forever homes with the help and support of loving families across this country. It really is incredible.
So, recommendations to foster care are declining, and those in foster care are being adopted at a record pace. That's real success for strengthening families in America.
And this success requires all of us to continue to work together. And it depends on generosity and love and the dedication of countless adoptive families, like a family I heard about on the way here, who, not long ago, grew from four to five through adoption. I'm told they met their future daughter through school where -- where their her new mom works as a counselor and a school teacher. And this young woman lost her father when she was two; she lost her mother when she was 10. And after years of living in a group home, I'm told that she'd actually given up -- she'd given up on ever being adopted, believing, as she said -- she said, "I was alone, and I knew I was going to be alone forever." But she was wrong.
And just 51 days before her 18th birthday, that young woman had a new brother, a new sister, two new parents, and a new last name. Now she's in college, and she's studying to be an art therapist. So would you join me in recognizing one of this year's Adoption Excellence Award winners: her mom and dad Chris and Gigi Kean, and their wonderful and inspiring daughter, Maci? Where are you? (Applause.) Great.
Great to have you all here. And thank you for your inspiring example. What a special, special family. And let me tell you, as you study to be an art therapist, the Second Lady of the United States is going to be excited to hear that. (Laughter.) She's become one of the premier champions of art therapy across this country. So, much success to you, Maci.
Today, we're also recognizing a family from Minnesota, who I'm told, adopted their youngest but tallest family member -- (laugher) -- just a few years ago, and they were already the picture of the American Dream: two successful parents; a passionate and philanthropic daughter; a dedicated son, well on his way to becoming an Eagle Scout. But they felt the need -- they felt the call to foster a child for years. And after discovering how many older children age out of potential adoption, they decided to begin the journey towards adopting a teenager.
Eventually, I'm told, they were matched with a young man who had spent most of his adolescence in foster care. And before long, they knew where he belonged. They knew he belonged in their home and to be a part of their forever family.
In fact, his mother's words said he, at one point, looked them in the eye and said, "I want to join your family." And their family said "yes."
Today, this family five does everything together, including advocating for adoption, part of what we'll celebrate today: adoption, especially of adolescent and older children. So join me in thanking another one of this year's Adoption Excellence Award winners, Scott and Amy Arntson, and their incredible son, Isaiah. Take a bow, will you? (Applause.) That's great. Thank you, Amy. Great job. Really great job.
You know, these incredible families are emblematic of all of our honorees today and, frankly, emblematic of adoptive families all across this country. And they represent the shared success of all of us working together to expand opportunities for adoption, to expand and develop all across this country. So -- but for all of our honorees, give them all a round of applause. They're all going to be recognized. You all inspire us.
But we're here today because families like these, and businesses and local governments, have all worked together to expand access to adoption all across this country. And I want to assure you, under this President and this Vice President and our entire administration, we're going to continue to work to expand adoption for families all across America. (Applause.)
But we understand there's still -- there's still more work to do. And the truth is, every year, some 20,000 young people age out of foster care without the support of a permanent family to help them navigate those early years of adulthood. And even now, more than 125,000 children are in foster care across the country, waiting for adoption. And more than half have been in foster care for more than two years.
So while we celebrate the progress that we've made -- 63,000 children from foster care to forever families -- I know I don't have to tell any and all of you here that there's much more work to be done.
And I promise you, at the President's direction, this administration will continue to work with all of you, with leaders in local government and business and communities all across this country, and we'll continue to work in public and private partnerships to promote adoption across the land -- like those being created by one of our award winners today, the Child Welfare Division of Louisiana's Department of Child and Family Services, which I am told has actually achieved three consecutive years of record-breaking adoption numbers in their state. (Applause.) Wow. Where's that team? Who's representing that wonderful child welfare team? Take a bow, will you, please? Fantastic job.
And we're also inspired by organizations like America's Kids Belong that's going to be honored here today. It matches older children and youth aging out of foster care with generous supporters who are out there meeting their basic needs, connecting them with new opportunities, including for employment, helping them to achieve their dreams. So how about a big round of applause for that team, too? Where are you? (Applause.) Take a bow. Thank you.
And let me assure all of you that we also understand the role that communities of faith play in adoption. And we're going to continue to support many faith-based organizations that have always and will continue to play a vital role in helping vulnerable children find forever homes.
And I couldn't be more proud that, at President Trump's direction, and with the strong support of leaders across foster care, adoption, and our faith communities, we've taken decisive action. We've reversed the rule implemented in the closing days of the last administration that jeopardized the ability of faith-based providers to serve those in need by penalizing them for their deeply held religious beliefs. We will stand for the freedom of religion and we will stand with faith-based organizations to support adoption. (Applause.) Thank you.
And I want to commend Secretary Azar and the team here at HHS for promulgating the new rule that respects the freedom of religion of every American, but also recognizes the vital role that faith-based organizations play in adoption in this country. So I thank you, Mr. Secretary, and I thank the HHS team. I know the President is grateful.
The truth is, four out of five families have pointed to faith and church support as a factor in successful fostering. And countless families rely on their faith communities as they adopt and incorporate children into their lives.
And I'll make you one more promise: Child welfare providers will never be forced to choose between their faith and serving those in need -- not on our watch. (Applause.)
So I thank you all for allowing me to join you today. This is a great celebration, and it's one that's near and dear to my heart. And it's such an honor for me to be a part of the most pro-adoption administration in this history.
And as I said earlier, the President talked about every child -- born and unborn -- being a sacred gift from God. And I truly do believe that if you're going to be pro-life, you need to be pro-adoption. And we are. (Applause.)
And the truth is, I have some personal experience in this -- or at least we almost did in our family. When Karen and I were starting to get our family going, we went through -- as many couples do -- years of unexplained infertility. And so we began to enter the adoptive process. We prayed through it. We made the decision that we would adopt a child, believing that maybe that was how God was going to put our little family together. And when the call came that we were in the queue for an adoption, the call also came from our doctor that Karen was expecting after five and a half years of unexplained infertility.
We only had one question though. And that was: The second family in line, were they clinically infertile? Because we had already decided to open our hearts and our home to a child.
And when we learned that the family right after us could not adopt -- or could not have a child, we stepped out of the way because God was blessing us with a family and we wanted Him to be able to bless them as well. (Applause.)
But we'd already crossed that threshold. Like the adoptive families that we'll celebrate here today, we had already made the decision. And so while I've not experienced the blessing of being an adoptive family, I -- I understand the decision that you make in doing it. And I admire it deeply, as does every American. I mean, the truth of the matter is that people deserve to know that there's roughly the same number of couples experiencing unfertility -- infertility in this country than there are abortions.
Literally, year after year, the number of families that struggle with unexplained infertility is roughly equal to the number of abortions. And so, I truly do believe as we stand without apology for the sanctity of life, we must stand for and expand access to adoption in America. That's how we make progress, by putting families together. (Applause.)
So thank you again. Thank you for letting me share that from my heart. And thank you for letting me come and just congratulate each and every one of you today. Thank you for stepping up to serve those in need, through foster care, through adoption. What you do, you do for the most vulnerable among us. And you do for America.
And during this National Adoption Month, know that your compassion and your love are changing lives and they're changing this country. And never doubt that the American people are with you, that they admire you. I'm sure you hear it as you get stopped outside of CVS or people stop you at work and worship and just express their admiration for your decision to become adoptive parents.
Never doubt that this President and our entire administration stand with you to continue to expand and support adoption and lift it up as a means of expanding forever families across this country.
And I also believe that you should never doubt that He -- who said, whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me -- will bless every family that opens their home and their hearts to adoption.
So thank you to our honorees. Congratulations. God bless you. God bless your forever families. And God bless America. (Applause.)
12:35 P.M. EST