On Tuesday, November 13, the Department of Health and Human Services used their National Adoption Month celebration to highlight a new focus for the next year on the promotion of adoption of teenagers from foster care.

The annual event, which began in 1994, was held in the great hall of the Hubert H. Humphrey HHS building. The two hour ceremony included opening remarks by Jerry Milner, Acting Commissioner, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, remarks by Lynn Johnson, the new Assistant Secretary for the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) and later in the event, HHS Secretary Alex Azar.

Commissioner Milner opened the event with remarks about how important the issue is for him personally because he had worked on adoptions for more than 10 years of his career. He also talked about the theme for this year which is going to focus on teenagers in the foster care system with a specific emphasis on 15 through 17-year-olds who far too frequently end up aging out of the system. Milner discussed some the existing barriers which include families feeling they cannot be parents and young people in foster who may become convinced that families are not willing to adopt them.

As part of the HHS goal and the day’s event they talked about the You Don’t Have To Be Perfect To Be A Perfect Parent campaign. A relatively new campaign through Adopt US Kids and the National Ad Counsel to encourage families and adults to reach out for some of the more than 123,000 children waiting to be adopted.

Many speakers, including Bob Hearn, National Project Director for Adopt US Kids emphasized those points and many of the stories and discussions focused on how families or organizations have been successful in increasing the number of youth who are adopted from foster care by opening to new attitudes that break old stereotypes.

A major part of the morning’s event was a new movie in theaters this weekend that revolves round a couple who decide to adopt three siblings from foster care, Instant Family. The movie’s director and writer Sean Anders spoke and (he received an award of recognition from HHS) talked about how the movie came about. The movie which stars Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne, is based in part on Director Anders family and experience with his wife when they decided to adopt three siblings. While the movie and their personal lives are a little different—the movie includes the adoption of a teen as part of the three siblings adopted—he used his experiences to make the movie and focus on the challenges of parenthood and the challenges the siblings experienced in foster care.

The national adoption event also represented one of the first child welfare events for relatively newly confirmed Assistant Secretary Lynn Johnson. During the event, Secretary Alex Azar appeared and offered brief remarks thanking everybody for their work. The event wrapped up with awards based on Family Contributions, Individuals/Professionals, Business Contributions/Initiatives and Media/Public Awareness categories.