If you’ve somehow managed any combination of staying housed, attaining full-time employment, attending post-secondary education, or remaining out of jail after you’ve emancipated, it’s likely you will become a poster child of what the system can do for you. You will be called an “exception.” And if you don’t manage to attain these things, you become a statistic.
An exception is a person or thing that is excluded from a general statement or does not follow a rule. Failing is so common in the foster system that it’s become the standard rule. If failing is the expectation, what was the whole point of removing us from our family? The statistics on foster youth are available to most people. In my opinion, these statistics are nothing to celebrate. These systems need reform.
I count myself as lucky. I have lived with many other foster youth who shared their stories, and my experiences were different from theirs. There were several times in foster homes and in transitional housing where I’ve had to advocate for myself due to unhealthy living environments. I am grateful I had the courage to do so, but everyone isn’t the same.
It’s no secret that navigating the foster system can be a difficult task. What makes it worse is that every youth who has entered the system has experienced trauma in some way. Otherwise, they’d be at home with their parents. No two journeys are the same, and for whatever reason, the expectations of foster youth are set extremely low. It’s like falling down a black hole, and everyone around you is silent because they don’t expect much from you. I’ve witnessed several young women walk out the front door with trash bags carrying their belongings, unprepared for the future.
If the government is serious about bettering the lives of foster youth, there are a few things they can consider:
1. Support stability. Stability is extremely important no matter who you are. Moving multiple times a year because you aren’t wanted only adds trauma and prevents one from focusing on important tasks like school. Similarly, courts need to understand that reunification is not always the best answer. If a child is in a loving and supportive home, putting them back with their parents could cause more harm than good.
2. Vet foster parents better. One of the main complaints I heard and felt while in the system is that we are just a check – and I felt that to be true. Foster parents should not build their wealth with money that is supposed to go toward taking care of their foster child. I understand it’s hard to find parents, but in this case we really need to focus on the quality of those parents.
3. Provide automatic housing vouchers to foster youth once they exit the system. Research conducted on three Midwestern states found that 31 to 46 percent of foster youth who exit the care system experience homelessness by the age of 26. This is as outrageous as it is inevitable because once their program ends, so does their housing. Therefore, foster youth should have priority when it comes to housing assistance.
Every youth deserves to be an exception. There are no excuses. When the government takes a child from their parents, they assume responsibility for that child. Therefore, the government should take steps to implement stronger protections and better housing support to ensure that children and young adults have a steady foundation once they leave the system through reunification or emancipation.