Foster teens suffer from the harshest stereotypes.
Whenever I told anyone I had a teenage foster daughter they immediately took a step back and would stare at me with a rather shocked, blank look. This was usually followed by a comment of something along the lines of “wow, you are really brave… or crazy… I could NEVER do that.” I don’t blame them. They have to process through all kinds of assumptions and stereotypes, not just about foster care or teens, but about teens in foster care. They must be a juvenile delinquent… there must be some reason (their fault that they haven’t found a permanent family yet), foster teens are so screwed up by their parents plus being a bratty teenager, they’ll never respect you or listen to what you have to say… the list goes on.
The result of this is fewer foster parents that are willing to “risk” taking in a teen, which then results in (as shown above) more and more teens growing up in a group home environment where, instead of parents, they have employees rotating in 8 hour shifts. An institution where one teen describes calling his social worker to sign a permission slip for school over and over, never to have his calls returned (The Washington Post). As much as the state is trying, this is just not natural, the system is inadequately providing the physical, emotional and spiritual support these youth need to heal and become ready for adulthood.
The fact is… these are just kids. Our kids. It takes a village to raise a child (especially in the case of foster care) and due to fear, the village has run away, leaving these kids scared and vulnerable. You can bet the things that I have heard, these kids have heard, over and over, and over again. We are creating a self-fulfilling prophecy when we don’t believe the best for these kids. After years of being labeled “throw away,” “delinquent,” “trouble maker” with out anyone to speak real truth into their lives, it is sad but true the path that they begin to travel. They have learned a lot during this time, first from their parents, then from society, they’ll sum it up to “people hurt you, don’t trust anyone but yourself.”
Calloused and numb, this is how they survive, tumbling along toward adulthood. Then they reach 18, and sadly, without any strong relationship in their lives they are abruptly released into the wide, wide world. Tell me, could you have left home at 18, found a place to live, pursued a higher education, gotten a decent job, without the support of an adult that you trusted? Could you imagine your kids doing this? For some of you, the answer may be yes, but I would guess that for most, the answer is no.
This powerful video from the Camellia Network, portrays this reality for the nearly 30,000 foster youth who “age out” of the foster system every year. Their website asserts that "for youth who age out of the system without a permanent family to support them, life is often tough. 25% of these youth become homeless by the time they turn twenty. 25% become incarcerated. 60% have children of their own within four years, and those kids are twice as likely to be placed in foster care themselves - continuing the cycle for a future generation" (The Camellia Network). Other studies show that among these youth, only half will graduate from high school and only 3% will attain a college degree.
I am excited to note that some states, including California have just recently extended foster care to age 21. I look forward to seeing how this strengthens this vulnerable population. :) In this 31 day series I will also be discussing how we as individuals and as a society can come alongside and support these teens while in foster care and as they grow into adulthood. Despite the gravity of the current statistics, with organizations like the Camellia Network, increased awareness from the general population, and the willingness of individuals to step up and make a difference within their community; I have great hope for this next generation of foster youth!