Today across the nation there are over 400,000 children in foster care, over 20,00 of these youth are “legal orphans” awaiting adoption and 25,000 of these children will age out this year. During the month of May hundreds of community events are being planned across the country to help retain, recruit and support critically needed foster parents as well as provide support and advocacy for foster youth and assist children aging out of the system.
We can get involved now to Change a Life one child at a time or pay the cost of our failure later. According to the latest statistics for vulnerable children aging out of the system this is the price we are already paying today for our failure:
Only 54% earn a high school diploma
Only 10% of those go on to college
Only 2% of those obtain a Bachelor’s degree or higher
84% become parents prior to a marriage
51% will experience unemployment due to lack of skills
30% have no health insurance
25% will at one time be homeless
30% receive some type of public assistance
37% become incarcerated
Over 40% will become involved with drugs or are alcoholics
May is an opportune time to highlight the hundreds of ways individuals, churches, schools, libraries, scout troops, civic and social organizations, businesses and government can help support these children, youth and families. I hope it will encourage you to Change a Life by:
Sharing your hearts
Opening your homes as foster parents
Offering your help youth in foster care.
Declare May as “Foster Care Month”
How You May Participate in Foster Care Month:
Wear a “Blue Ribbon” during May in support of National Foster Care Month and help organize or attend a ribbon tying ceremony to advocate on behalf of children in foster care in your community or state.
Write your Governor and Mayor requesting they proclaim May as “Foster Care Month” in your state and community.
Organize a Candlelight Vigil in remembrance of those children who have been abused, neglected or died while in out of home care.
Collect “Teddy Bears” to donate to your local police and fire departments as well as social services departments to soothe children in a time a crisis.
Create “Love Packs” for children living in foster care homes, group homes or other institutional care. (IE: hygiene items, and age appropriate toys, school supplies, story books and a teddy bear)
Organize a drive to collect suitcases and duffel bags as many foster children are moved a number of times while in care, usually their possessions in black plastic garbage bags donate suitcases & duffel bags to foster care agencies so children might move with a little bit of dignity.
Conduct a drive for goods that will assist a youth aging out of the system to get started in life on their own. (IE: alarm clocks, bedding, tools, towels and basic house wares)
Have an “Event Day” for children in foster care (IE: Sports, Zoo, Picnic or Museum Day).
Conduct a creative writing/poster campaign for school children on the subject of Children in Foster Care.
Learn more about how policy, legislative and budget priorities affect children and youth in foster care. Learn the facts about foster care and gain a better understanding of the needs of those touched by foster care. Advocate for reform of the child welfare system so “in the best interest of the child” becomes a reality to the children and youth in care.
Have a “Capital Day” in your state to educate legislatures of the need to reform the child welfare system as many children should NOT be in care in the first place.
Conduct a letter writing campaign to the news media, government officials and others of the plight of children living without parents.
Organize a “Step Out for Kids Walkathon” to raise awareness and funds to assist those children and youth in care. Sometimes, tangible items can have tremendous impact on a young life. Foster youth often lack the funds to pay for an after-school computer class, musical instruments, sports participation or art supplies. Items that most of us would consider basics, such as school backpacks or supplies for a science fair entry, also may be out of reach. Cost of donating to nonprofits benefiting foster youth: A tax-deductible contribution to fit your budget.
Become a “Mentor” or “Tutor” to a child or youth in foster care. By becoming a mentor or tutor you will give foster youth reliable support from someone who holds high expectations for them and encourages them to see a better life for themselves. To mentor or tutor a foster youth not only benefits the recipient, but it is also one of the most rewarding endeavors in life, showing a young person that you care and can be relied upon, even through challenging times. Cost of mentoring or tutoring youth: An hour or two of your time each week. Research shows that children and youth with mentors earn higher grades and improve relationships with friends and families. They also have a better opportunity of success when they age out of the system.
Make a financial contribution to programs and agencies attempting to enrich the lives of children and youth in care.
Have a “Speakers Campaign” to make presentations to your faith-based congregation, civic group, school, PTA and other associations to educate and encourage your community to come together to find families and resources that help young people in foster care thrive.
Businesses have the ability to offer foster youth a life-changing opportunity as well. By hiring young people living in foster care and training them for successful careers, employers provide foster youth with a critical start toward a lifetime of self-sufficiency. Cost of offering and promoting jobs or internships for youth in foster care: Insignificant!
Most important of all, for those children who may not be able to remain with or return safely to their birth families, thousands are needed to open their homes and their hearts and become full-time foster or adoptive parents. The lasting commitment that results from creating a new home is one that can be pursued by couples, married or unmarried, single people and partners. Cost of creating a new, loving family by parenting abused, abandoned and neglected children: Priceless! Contact your local private or state child care agency to see how you may become a foster or adoptive parent.
Many people have asked me how they can become involved in making the foster care system a better one for the children and youth as well as for the foster parents since I was once a foster child. The snapshot of ideas above gives everyone an opportunity to do exactly that.
Yes, the ideas may take time, effort and funds, however, remember these children and youth are our future. As said early in this article; “We can Change a Life NOW one at a time or we will pay the price of their and our failure later.
It is up to US!