OSU's Dr. Kerri Kearney shared this with the R is for Thursday network. Read it, and think what you can do in your community.
Susan Kools, RN, PhD, FAAN
The University of Virginia School of Nursing's Madge M. Jones Professor and Director of Diversity, Inclusion and Excellence.
Posted: 11/17/2014 10:51 am EST Updated: 11/17/2014 10:59 am EST
It's that time of year
when many young people head back into the comforting orbit of their
parents' home -- home for the holidays, home from college, home from
work, back into old rooms, clean laundry and the protection of family,
food and familiarity.
But for some young people, there is no going
home, not ever. For them, the place just doesn't exist.
And their ranks
increase every year, when some 23,000 foster children become too old
for our social services system at age 18 without ever having found a
secure place to call home.
What happens to this group -- nearly a
quarter million individuals over the past decade alone - should concern
the lot of us. These are children that we as a society have
decided can have a better chance away from their family of origin, but
the fact is when they don't have meaningful and sustained social
connections during their adolescent years, things don't go well as they
emerge into adulthood.
Everyone should know and care about this,
because like it or not, we all pay for it. And there are incredible and
disquieting costs -- social, financial and human -- as a result.
A Midwest study
found that of 600 young adults who'd aged out of the foster care and
child welfare system, less than half were employed by age 24 with an
annual income of just $8,000. More than a quarter had been homeless.
Twenty-five percent had no high school diploma and just six percent had
earned either a two- or four-year degree -- educational attainment
thought to be the entry ticket for a decent-paying job and a chance at a
financially stable life. The majority of these young women and men had
already had children and received needs-based government assistance.
Forty-two percent of the young men had been arrested and 23 percent had
been convicted of a crime.
The costs of aging out of foster care drain our collective, taxpayer-funded coffers, too. The Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative
found that taxpayers and communities pay roughly $300,000 for the
public assistance, incarceration and lost wages for each young person
who ages out of the foster care system. That's close to $7 billion spent
every year on this group of vulnerable adolescents in the U.S.
With National Adoption Day
soon to arrive, we'll hear a lot about American families that
generously open their hearts and doors to children in need, as well as
heart rending statistics about how many more children are still waiting
for a permanent home. But behind the gleam of adoption lies a darker
truth about its sister social program, foster care, and the often
debilitating results of children who -- most often plucked from their
biological families for a host of good reasons -- never find a place to
call home, the right kind of support, or a level of stability and
constancy and end up 18, on their own, and entirely lost right at the
moment when they're supposed to be finding themselves.
young people who are bright and open and determined but wholly
unprepared for life in ways that the average, family-fortified youth
cannot fathom. Without connection to one or two -- or more --
consistent, positive, connected adult role models in their communities,
these adolescents will continue to flounder.
It's high time that
we understand the lost human capital of this group and be proactive in
our approach to to usher them into adulthood -- really, just another
three to five years -- the right way.
That means fostering meaningful
social connections with supportive adults, facilitating their
educational attainment and job training, and providing transitional
housing, health and mental health care.
Of course having a family
matters. It shapes the raw, malleable stuff in us that lies between our
genetic material and our circumstances. But where one's family comes
from, and who can comprise it, is truly open and diverse. If we rally to
support children aging out of foster care with the kinds of support
they need, they will flourish as those with permanent and stable
families have had the opportunity to do.
The great Nelson Mandela
asserted that "there can be no keener revelation of a society's soul
than the way in which it treats its children." In our celebration of
National Adoption Day, let us not forget society's children -- our
children -- those who grow up in foster care.
Susan Kools is
the Madge M. Jones Professor of Nursing at the University of Virginia
School of Nursing. A long-time advocate of adolescents, she has studied
the health and development of adolescents in foster care, and aims to
improve the outcomes of young people aging out of foster care.
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