National Foster Care Awareness—a celebration and a challenge

May is national Foster Care Awareness month—created to acknowledge the lives of young people, their foster families, and the many caring individuals who have helped rewrite stories that began as chapters of adversity into stories of success. There are hundreds of accounts of young people who, despite seemingly insurmountable odds, have gone on to forever change the course of their lives and of generations to come because of the hearts and homes of foster families. It is a time to celebrate these successes.

National Foster Care Awareness month is also a time to challenge ourselves by considering work that still needs to be done on behalf of youth in care. We have still a long way to go to ensure that all youth have an equal chance at success.

Here are the statistics:

On any given day, there are over 500,000 children in foster care. That’s more than the populations of cities like Miami or Honolulu or Minneapolis.

Approximately 800,000 children will have some contact with the foster system every year. That’s more than the populations of Boston, San Francisco, or Austin.

Approximately 28,000 youth will age out of foster care each year. One in seven of them will be homeless.

50% of them will be unemployed.

20% of foster youth turn to criminal behavior, compared to 5% of the general population.

And taxpayers pay $22 billion dollars a year on foster care. This does not include monies spent on prevention or treatment for substance abuse.

We know that the best way to prevent youth from entering the child welfare system—and crossing over to the juvenile justice system—is early identification of families at risk. This identification starts with coordination of care across society—in our schools, houses of worship, neighborhood centers, and any agency or organization that touches our families. For those for whom prevention is not possible, there are interventions that can occur that will alter the discouraging course of the statistics above. It is work by people like Shay Bilchik, founder and Director of the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy, whom we honored this past week at our Wildcat Spring Cocktail party, who continue to challenge policy makers and offer practical, multi-system approaches to supporting youth in care.

At Fedcap, we, too, are committed to ongoing efforts to support youth in care. While Mr. Bilchik is working on system-wide interventions such as the Crossover Youth Practice Model I’ve described in past weeks, we are also working on innovative, precise interventions that are practical and sustainable and that will bolster the connection between foster parents and their foster children. For example, our PrepNow! program, now being implemented coast to coast, offers a full, blended “curriculum,” aimed at creating a college-going environment in the home of foster parents who may not have previously prepared a child for the process of applying to college or advancing to the next step in their careers. It is these precise interventions that can make the difference. We will continue to work toward creating interventions—and preventions—to reduce the statistics of youth who cross over between the child welfare and the juvenile justice systems. I welcome your ideas and thoughts on ways we can continue to innovate and to improve the stories of youth in care. Feel free to comment with your ideas—I welcome your thoughts, as always.

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