Investing in the success of foster youth through mentoring: In the most recent fiscal year, there were 437,000 children in foster care nationwide. Of those, 81,000 are in the critical age group of 15 to 18, with their emancipation as young adults right on the horizon. Twenty-thousand age out each year at age 18.
For most Americans, this may seem like a small number, and thus, of small consequence. For many, what happens to foster kids upon aging out is at most an interesting Netflix movie, but clearly someone else’s problem. Yet it’s not. It’s your problem and mine, and it’s an enormous one.
If we think about the economic footprint alone of the 20,000+ foster youth aging out from state custody into adulthood, the impact on society is overwhelming. Statistics suggest that many of these 20,000 young adults will raise kids of their own who will eventually be in foster care, perpetuating the cycle.
Crime rates are higher in this group, and many will end up on public assistance, but there is hope. Those who break out of the statistics have something in common: They had mentors and role models who invested in them.
For those who become a statistic, it’s not their fault, really. Kids don’t enter foster care because of their own behavior, but because of the actions of adults in their lives. They are not worse people by nature; they just haven’t had the benefit of the role models we had to help launch us into adulthood.
Leaving economics aside, it’s heartbreaking that we’re raising a growing class of people for whom hopelessness is normal. They haven’t been taught — or at least, haven’t yet learned — the value of family, love, and hope. During National Foster Care Month, it’s time for Americans who have a heart for mentoring to rise to this task. If you have the skills, heart, and thick enough skin to take on the task of foster parenting teens, then connect with FosteringIdaho.org to get started today.
If teens are out of your comfort zone, get started with younger kids, and speak love into their life for however long you are privileged to have them in your home. As Zig Ziglar used to say, “You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.”
Ziglar popularized a story of a young boy walking along the beach with his grandfather. His grandfather sees hundreds of sand dollars (some recount the story with starfish) washed up on the beach and dying in the sun, and starts picking them up to toss them back into the ocean.
“But there are so many of them!” the boy says. “What possible difference can we make?”
The grandfather, reaching down and tossing another one back into the ocean, said “To that one, it will make all the difference in the world.”
This is a great story and one that has motivated many good families to start foster parenting. The story has made its way onto water bottle giveaways to recruit foster parents, and even into social work conference keynote speeches.
Ziglar told another story about twins who grew up with alcoholic parents. One became highly successful, while the other became an alcoholic. When asked the reason for their success or failure, they each gave the same answer: “I came from a family of alcoholics.” The only difference is that one had hope enough to change the outcome of his life, and the other had lost all hope of ever rising above his past.
Sadly, most foster youth have never had anyone give them hope that they can rise above their childhood trauma. But hope is exactly what they need to hear from the positive role models in their lives, starting with you.
Learn more about becoming a foster parent at icwrtc.org/get-involved or call the Idaho Care Line at 211.
Attend an informal foster care information meeting in your community. Go to icwrtc.org/events/info-meetings.
Learn about mentoring aged-out youth at jemfriends.org.