What happens to foster children who ‘age out’ of care and are still unable to overcome the circumstances of their past?
Richard Wexler, former executive director of the now-dormant National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, states in his article “80 Percent Failure” that in the Northwest Foster Care Alumni Study conducted by the Casey Family Program, it clearly shows that the foster care system fails 80 percent of the time. So in other words, we are failing 80 percent of children in the foster care system.
It is said that approximately 26,000 foster children age out of care every year. So in essence, we know for a fact that every year approximately 20,800 aged out foster children will not have the tools to become successful adults.
What happens to these unfortunate children who have no family to rely on?
Because of the trauma sustained in their biological family environments and the added trauma of the foster care system, we know for a fact that most of them are many years behind emotionally. These are children who do not have the life skills, and often times, the mental capacity to live on their own. So what becomes of these children who are not ready for adult life?
They have NO CHOICE but to find any way possible to survive. Once again, life becomes merely a game of survival. I personally choose to marry at 17, three weeks before I was to ‘age out’, because I was too afraid of homelessness. My brother on the other hand, chose a life of crime. Neither of us had much choice in our decisions, and did whatever it took to merely to survive yet another day.
After many decades, we as a society have finally put the pieces together and have come to the conclusion that former foster children make up a large number of the prison population, human trafficking population, prostitution population, and the drug industry population. This also trickles down to the child neglect/abuser population, domestic violence population, children in foster care population, and the population receiving government aid.
Is this because foster children are ‘bad children’, or is it because ‘WE’ have dropped the ball and have failed ‘OUR’ children? If we don’t like the way our children are turning out, do we turn our heads and continue to let this problem grow larger and larger every day, or do we find a different way to parent our children?
This same report also states that we know for a fact that one third of our foster children are abused by their foster parents. This number does not account for the abuse that happens by merely growing up in the foster care system. If you combine those two numbers, it’s pretty obvious to the naked eye that our foster children don’t stand a chance.
Some say orphanages, or group homes are the answer. Yet, it is a known fact that children in orphanages suffer even greater than foster children suffer. So how do we fix this ever growing problem?
It’s called families. Every child deserves to grow up in a loving family. Every child deserves to have ONE person who loves them unconditionally. That ONE ingredient, family, makes all the difference in the world.
I’ve been there, I know, all I ever wanted was one person I could trust. Yet, there never was that ‘one’ person, and I was a good kid. What about the foster child who is ‘reacting’ out? Foster children don’t act out, they react out.
Only the unconditional love and commitment of family can overtake the hold trauma has on most foster children. I never had the wonderful opportunity of a forever family. Instead at 46 years old, I realized that trauma was still defining my life. Seriously, I woke up one day and realized I had been in a ‘trauma sleep’ for 46 years.
And if we fail at making this connection for foster youths during their adolescence, we certainly have a responsibility to provide a safe place where our former fosters can learn the life skills they were never taught as children. They would benefit from intense trauma therapy, drug rehabilitation, life skill lessons, job skills, and the list goes on and on.
Only then will they have the necessary tools to change the course of their futures. Only then will they not be a constant drain on our economy. Children like my brother costs us billions and billions of dollars, every day.
Why don’t we open halfway houses strictly for former foster youth and equip them with the tools to become successful? Their requirements are different than those who suffer from mental illness. They are NOT mentally ill, they are merely children who were never given the tools necessary to succeed in life. They were never given the help or guidance ordinary children are privy to.
Instead, at 18, we take them to the edge of a cliff and we tell them to jump. And often times, they do.
Helen Ramaglia is a foster alumni who became a foster/adoptive parent. She is the founder and Director of Fostering Superstars, a Congressional Award Winner for her work with foster children and is the author of “From Foster to Fabulous”. She is a popular speaker, trainer and advocate for foster children.
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