The need for national assistance to older youth in care right now
The child welfare system is expansive, sometimes overbearing, and complex in the outcomes it can deliver. Equally as complex are the young people who enter and exit and the lives they choose to lead.
Many of us take on roles working to improve the lives of other vulnerable populations whether they are in the child welfare system or not. Some of us become lawyers, teachers, social workers and everything in between. The common thread is that we’re advocates, and for us the coronavirus crisis and the lack of relief for those involved with child welfare is not only disappointing, it’s personal.
Since March, organizations from across the country that are youth-led and or serve youth have organized and galvanized their networks to lift up the needs of youth in care during coronavirus. What has been especially notable is the many young people who have stepped up to advocate for the needs of themselves and their brothers and sisters in foster care. Alumni of the system have shared how unimaginable it is to cope with a global pandemic while also trying to navigate being in foster care, or transitioning out of it. Young people still in the system have courageously shared the continuous hardships they have experienced as they have been laid off, displaced from their college campuses, or face homelessness.
Collectively these young people, alongside many organizations, have turned their passion and frustration into positive energy through the #UpChafee Campaign. This campaign focuses on raising the voices of young people in care on social media, in meetings, during briefings, to their members of Congress, senators and the Trump administration, all in the hopes of getting targeted coronavirus relief. So far, the campaign has gotten more than 3,100 signatures from individuals across the country and over 220 organizations have signed a letter in support as well.
But to date, despite all of the efforts of so many people across the United States, no meaningful relief has been delivered to these young people. Young people who often do not have family to lean back on are left overlooked and under-resourced at a time when support is desperately needed for the entire country.
For many of us, we chose to work in this profession to better the child welfare system for our brothers and sisters currently going through care. We are left feeling disappointed, exhausted and heartbroken to continue to see the havoc coronavirus is wreaking on our brothers and sisters, and to see many of our government leaders turn a blind eye.
It is said that kids in foster care are kids of the government. So why is it that our government leaders continue to neglect, ignore and deny these young people critically needed support? Why is it that airlines have received more relief than children and young people who are left on their own, battling to meet basic needs, many facing homelessness, and in some cases struggling to afford food?
We believe that these young people deserve better. We believe that it is the responsibility of our state and federal leaders to open their eyes and pay attention to our brothers and sisters in care.
Until meaningful relief is delivered, we will not be silent. We will continue to organize and amplify the voices of young people who have or are currently experiencing foster care. While tired, we will push forward. While discouraged, we will hold onto the hope that Congress and the administration will wake up and hear our cries and respond. For many of us who are no longer in foster care, we will keep fighting for our siblings who are currently in the system, because young people from care deserve to be consistently invested in.
In President-elect Biden’s victory speech delivered on November 8, 2020, he stated, “This is the time to heal in America.” More than ever, now is the time to invest in the healing of foster youth. Coronavirus has wreaked havoc on our country and the lives of this most vulnerable population.
The new administration has a real opportunity to not only restore hope, provide a safety net, and turn the tide in a positive direction for transition-aged youth, but to also rectify the underlying systemic inequalities plaguing the child welfare system that this pandemic has exposed and exacerbated. The work must begin now, and the incoming administration can start by providing emergency relief and support to a population that has been vocal and forgotten since the onset of the pandemic.
For a majority of us who made it out of the foster care system just to turn around and work in child welfare full-time, the lack of response from Congress and the administration does not just feel like a professional loss, for us. It’s personal.