Adolescence is one of the most difficult times in life. It's a period where we are desperately searching to find our place and to be accepted and loved. We are trying to figure out who we are, what we believe in and whether we are worth something to anyone.
Most kids today are working through all of that in a stable home environment. Not our nation's foster children. These children, who already have had their freedom and their voice taken away upon entering the foster care system, are often left to navigate the rough waters of adolescence alone.
Over a third of our foster teens are living in an institution, not a family. They do not have someone asking about their day, checking on their homework, consoling them through a break-up, or cheering them at their basketball game.
No one is praying for them, encouraging them, challenging them, or just plain doing life with them.
Teenagers in foster care who have not been adopted face an overwhelmingly bleak future.
Foster Care laws vary state by state, but most children "age out" of foster care between 18 and 21.
What does that mean?
Teens who "age out" are no longer provided with resources and services by the state. Once they leave the system, they must find their own living arrangements, job, transportation, and meet their own daily needs.
Here is why that is troubling.
- 50% of teens in foster care drop out of high school.
- 60% of them will be homeless, go to jail, or die within one year of leaving the foster care system at age 18.
- Girls in foster care are 600% more likely than the general population to become pregnant before the age of 21.
- 3 in 10 of the nation's homeless are former foster children.
- Only 7-13% of foster children enroll in higher education.
- 1% of former foster children earn a college degree.
These are the forgotten children.
Most would agree that it is a whole lot easier to love a chubby-cheeked nine month-old baby who just came into foster care than a surly, brash teenage girl who has been in care for over a decade.
But that surly, brash teenage girl was once nine months old. She once lived with a biological family, and somewhere along the way, things went horribly wrong. She has since suffered because of the decisions of those who were meant to protect her. Years, memories, and dreams have been stolen from her. And it's not her fault.
Children in foster care do not have a voice. They do not get to decide where they go and with which family they will be placed.
Once they hit adolescence, there are very few people left fighting for them.
And that's when they need it most.
So what can be done?
1. Become a foster parent to teens. It's not a job for everyone, but it's a job for someone. Could that be your family? Contact your local Social Services department to inquire about the needs, requirements, and training required.
2. Give, Donate, Encourage. There are great organizations that come alongside teens aging out of the foster care system. Take a minute to check them out and see if you want to be a part.
The Camellia Network. Supporting specific former foster teens who have aged out by helping them with college, finding a job, and providing a gift registry to assist them in getting on their feet.
Do 1 Thing. Foster Care and Homelessness often coincide. Do 1 Thing is an organization dedicated to helping out our nation's homeless youth, many of whom are former foster children. You can find a listing of organizations by state that are doing something to help eradicate homelessness here.
3. Become a Mentor. It's a disheartening reality, but adoption isn't going to happen for many adolescents in foster care. That is all the more reason that we need to fight to make sure they are not forgotten or ignored.
Mentoring a foster child is where a relationship is built without the child living full-time in the home. There are many ways that it can look; time spent hanging out, going to eat, offering wisdom and guidance, a shoulder to cry on, or even just a sounding board for a teen who never has anyone that listens to them. This is a role that can be life-changing, for both the mentor and the teen. Everyone needs someone who has their back, is going to fight for them, and encourages them to dream about the future.
Becoming a Mentor looks different in every state. Contact your local Social Services, or faith-based Foster Care program in your county or state.
In Alabama, you can contact the Department of Human Resources, Alabama Baptist Children's Homes, or United Methodist Children's Homes.
If we start REALLY investing in our foster children, imagine the possibilities. . .
- Education, college, and careers can become a reality for them, not just a pipe dream
- Fewer inmates in our prison system
- Fewer unwanted/unplanned pregnancies
- The generational cycle of abuse and neglect can stop
By just CARING about a child and offering LOVE and TIME, it could impact our entire NATION.
There are tangible ways to get involved WHEREVER you live in the United States.
Someone needs to fight for them. Will it be you?
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