Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Why Foster Care? Part Two of three

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York has stated, “The transition from foster care to independence is not an easy one for young adults who often lack the basic support that other young people are able to take for granted. Without the tools, resources and guidance to make it on their way, these young adults too often run into hurdles that they can’t clear alone” (Clinton, 2002). As a society, as Christians, we cannot drop the ball for these vulnerable youth. When we do, we find the odds are not in their favor. National studies have shown that within 12-18 months of leaving foster care:

40% will not have complete high school;
50% will be unemployed;
33% will be on public assistance; and
40% of the nation’s homeless were in foster care as a child (Life Coach Homes, 1999).

Those foster children, who age out of the system, bring with them “an accumulated set of problems that make a successful transition to adulthood difficult” (Child Trends, 1999). Furthermore, “according to the only national study of youth aging out of foster care, 38 percent were emotionally disturbed, 50 percent had used illegal drugs, and 25 percent were involved with the legal system” (cited in Child Trends, 1999). With known statistics such as these, how can any of us sit back, expect the government to solve these issues, and feel we are supporting our youth in trouble?

In our passion for the foster care program (and naiveté!), we believed that if we could just love and guide her through the remaining high school years, she would be ready for adulthood. As graduation approached, we all became excited about Diana’s possibilities. All except Diana. With graduation, she faced her “orphan status” head on. Her parents had abandoned her, terminated parental rights, and now she faced life alone, leaving her pseudo-family cheering her on. She had made it! She had survived abuse, abandonment, alcohol/drug use, and a suicide attempt--but she would graduate from high school…the first in her birth family to do so. She struggled, she fought, and she persevered. She was 18, about to graduate from high school, yet she still did not have what her heart longed for, what nature calls for--a forever family.

This is where we started asking ourselves the questions that symbolic interactionists ask--what can we do to make sense of this reality, how can we put into practice what we have said we believed for so long, what can we do to further influence the life of just one foster child, just one American child, that has the right to experience a family; something so many simply take for granted. It took years (we’re slow learners!) to define what our family would eventually become to Diana. This was a process; a process of redefining family. This discussion involved birth order disruption for our natural children, the reemergence of Diana’s birth family and the persistent pull of our heartstrings before we realized that when God calls us to something, it is best to follow His lead!

It was not an easy road for Diana either. Just as the statistics suggest, her transition into adulthood was a rocky road. DUI’s, jail time, job losses, pregnancy, marriage and divorce by the age of 25 all provided unnecessary challenges for a young woman trying to grow-up. It was clearly evident that, while the many years in foster care had provided a better chance for a successful and happy life, Diana’s struggle was not over. As Harriet Mauer, director of social services overseeing residential care at Good Shepherd suggests, “We ask more of our fragile, vulnerable foster children than we would ask of our own kids. We expect them [foster kids] to be out on their own cold turkey” (cited in Boyle, 2000).

According to a study done in Connecticut (Kluger, Fein, Maluccio and Taylor, 1986), “most foster parents develop a strong commitment to the young people in their care. Nearly half the foster parents had considered adopting the youngster, and most expected the youth to remain in the home until the age of majority” (cited in Aldgate, 1989, p. 84). While Gordy and I felt a strong commitment to Diana and her future, we did not realize the full impact it would have on our family until we had the opportunity to “practice what we preached.” We were not alone in this struggle. Many foster families face this dilemma when their long-term foster children come of age. The few statistics available that follow foster children who age out of the program, show that maintaining relationships with their foster family definitely influences their future; further reshaping their lives. This is what Jesus demonstrated in Mark 10:16 when he “took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.” Just as Jesus reshaped our futures by His life, death and resurrection; as Christians we must love as Jesus loved (John 15:12).


Bro Tim said...

We have had our two girls for 10 weeks. We pray that it will be God's Will for us to keep them but if not we know that God has their best interest in mind. I can not imagine how hard it will be if they go home but I know the Lord will help us to get through we count a priviledge to have them for these days so far. As far as your post on foster care these two have been great. It is so sad sometimes to see kids leave their parents but most of the time it is for their good. Good Post and please pray for the Ellison family. Thanks,
Bro Tim

kpjara said...

I'm embarrassed to admit it never "dawned" on me that Foster Children upon reaching legal "adulthood" are on their own! It seems perhaps there should (and probably is) some transitionary fostering?

I never would have made it without family and still go to them regularly for financial, emotional, physical help!

Heather Smith said...

I can't imagine not having the family I have. They love me and support me, and I can fall back on them if I need to. I feel that God wants me to one day adopt and maybe do foster care, so that I can show love to these kids who would otherwise never experience it! Thanks for this reminder!

Emily said...

Thank you for sharing this perspective, and that foster children aren't exactly pushed out the door at 18 ready to face the world like every other 18 year-old. People need so much love in the world today, and to see you ready to give love and help others learn to give it is beautiful. Thank God for your enthusiastic soul to help others see Him in often forgotten children.

Rebecca said...

Great article, Diane. We're hoping to be a foster family when the kids get a little bit bigger. There are no foster homes in our town, and there is plenty of neglect and abuse for so small a community. All the foster kids get shipped out to the next county. I never thought about what happens when they come of age. Very eye opening.

Chaotic Mom said...

This was a very touching post. I need to go back and read the first installment, and look forward for the next one, too.

My dad managed a foster care office. Heartbreaking stories. I was a foster baby adopted into his/my family. With all of this I have NEVER considered what happened with foster care children when they "graduated". THANK YOU for this food for thought.

Janice (5 Minutes for Mom) said...

so glad you are doing this essay series - thanks

i just sent you an email - i would love to link to this series. if you didn't get the email, can you email me?

thanks Diane!

Dream Mommy said...

That was one of the first things that bothered me when we started training for foster care. Our worker said when they reach 18, they basically drop them off at the nearest salvation army and they are on their own. It's really sad. I can't wait to read the rest of the series.

FAScinated said...

I am so glad that you visited my blog and left a comment--I might not have found your blog otherwise! I agree with you that this is mission work and I am thankful that you are giving families prayer support. I will be back to read more! ~Kari

Bill said...

Yes, kids age out all the time from foster care without the life skills they need to survive. Luckily, there are programs out there, like those offered by the Jim Casey Foundation (http://www.caseylifeskills.org/). And be sure to check out the great information on my foster care blog at adoptionblogs.com.

Granny said...

Thanks for your comment on "granny" today. No news yet on approaching baby but I'll put it on the blog.

When I have more time, we'll have to talk about foster care and "aging" out.

My email address should have come through but if it didn't it's



Heidi Hess Saxton said...

Thanks for getting in touch with me, Diane. With your permission, I'd like to mention your blog on my site -- feel free to list mine as well! (either MommyMonsters.blogspot.com or my main post, heidihesssaxton.blogspot.com)

God bless you! Heidi Saxton

Big Dave T said...

Sometimes I wonder if there is AN answer, let alone as easy answer. Not to sound too trite, there is a line in the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer that goes something like this: "You can do your best to teach them what you know, but in the end, children are what they are."

Perri said...

I was looking at the statistics on this yesterday when our Foster Care Family Newsletter arrived. It takes a strong kid to make it after they age out w/o getting any trouble.

Mary-LUE said...

Diane, This past year I became interested in doing work with kids who are aging out of the foster care system. Before I was able to do much about it, a close friend befriended two 'tween girls from down the street. Well, now she is their foster mother. I help out quite a bit and am certified to do respite care for her. It has been such a challenge for her and her husband. I've thought about trying to contact you to ask for your prayers and now here are these posts! Thank you so much for bringing this up in the blogosphere. We all need to consider what we can/should do to help. Please pray for my friends. They are feeling out of their depth and in need of much comfort and guidance from the Lord right now. God bless you!

theresa said...

I'm learning so much...thanks for sharing.

Granny said...

Wasn't sure if you'd get back to my blog. Jim and Melissa have a boy named Jonathan. 8 lbs 9 oz - all doing well.

thanks for your prayers and good wishes.


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