Imagine a child you knew entered foster care. Consider the following facts: Before age 18, they have an increased chance of being a victim of sexual assault or human trafficking. By their 18th birthday, they will have an increased likelihood of being involved in the criminal justice system for at least one day. By the time they turn 21, they have an increased chance of experiencing homelessness. All that changed for the child was one variable: going from not being a foster child to being one. Now, they are facing a wall of horrific statistics vying to destroy not only their childhood, but also their adulthood.
This is a difficult subject for foster youth. Therapy, if one can afford it, would benefit foster youth greatly when navigating such difficult topics. Everyone involved in the foster care system could benefit from a support system that encouraged them to heal.
We can feel angry knowing foster youth truly are at risk and that their lives are forever impacted. What we do with this anger determines whether we help to heal these visible wounds or not. The impact these sorts of devastating events can have on entire groups of people shows us, foster youth, that our collective needs to step up.
Traumatic events, such as incarceration, abuse, and homelessness, are common events for older children who have spent some time in foster care and have or will reach their 18th birthday. In order to ensure foster youth get a fighting chance, everyone needs to be involved in improving their lives directly and indirectly.
For older adults and social workers, become a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA). Attend events put on by former foster youth. Ensure that the youth in your life have regular access to their judge, social worker, CASA (if at all possible), therapist, lawyer, psychiatrist, doctor, general whole body medical care, inpatient treatment for psychiatric disorders, and SSI/SSDI (if at all possible).
If you are in one of the 20 states that offers extended foster care, encourage transitional-age youth to participate. Fight for a way to get Section 8 vouchers for the homeless youth who are over 18. Contact your local public housing agency to see if they offer family unification program (FUP) vouchers, which can be used specifically for transitional-age youth. Contact your representatives about changing state policies in order to require that housing vouchers are counted as income. Fight to change housing vouchers from a lottery system that can close for years at a time into an entitlement program that is similar to Social Security. Try to get the youth Uber or transit vouchers. Help them find resources that will assist them with applying for food stamps. Help at local food kitchens. Help them to visit family and friends. Talk about these issues everywhere you can.
For current foster youth, fight as hard as you can to get the things you are entitled to. Research these ideas. Ask everyone you can for support. Make yourself loud. Nothing is your fault. We all love you.
For former foster youth, stay involved in activism. Publish essays, talk on panels, testify at different legal hearings, and tell your story.
We all can fight for legal reform at the state level to ensure youth in all 50 states have access to extended foster care while they are between the ages of 18 and 21. I have personal experience with California’s AB12 program, which provided support in return for working or being in school and meeting regularly with a social worker.
Call your representatives and ask for any sort of provisions targeted towards foster youth’s pain points, such as discharge of student loans, scrubbing of criminal records, more money to pay social workers, and more money that goes directly to older foster youth. If possible, get money to current and foster youth through scholarships, high-paying internships, grants, and good jobs. Encourage continued education at community colleges or other colleges with larger support systems. Volunteer or offer affordable and accessible therapy sessions.
In conclusion, this is truly a crisis. This institution of foster care, that has been a part of the United States for a while, needs a lot of reform. It will have individuals that are looking to abuse the system filled with rage. It will have individuals that ignore the system cause a storm. But that isn’t why we are trying to change any of this. We do this work because we know we can be that spark of light in this world. There are so many great articles published freely about these risks. Please pass the love on by becoming knowledgeable. This will allow you to add urgency to your belief of change.