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).