Future & Hope of Children Aging Out of the Foster Care System

Svmplv By Svmplv, 12th Mar 2014 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL http://nut.bz/396ec4-h/
Posted in Wikinut>Family>Adoption

Points out the flaws in our current foster care system, mainly the issue of kids aging out of a broken system

Future & Hope

Each year, thousands of children are cast aside by the government, left to fend for themselves. The United States Foster Care program is often praised for it’s ability to take care of displaced children as they develop into young adults, however there is a major flaw that must be addressed. The funding to support a child in foster care is immediately cut off when the child turns eighteen years old. This results in high rates of homelessness, unemployment, and death in those children that age out of the protection of the government. We believe that these tragic results can be reduced exponentially by introducing a mentorship program, in which the young adults are guided toward higher education, a steady income, and emotional and sociological health.

A cyclical problem we identified in the current foster care system is that, once children in the system age, out they find themselves without any kind of support system or guidance. Approximately 20,000 kids age out of the foster system each year (Vaughn et al. 2008),without a support system or anyone to look to for guidance foster youth are more susceptible to engage in risky behaviors. Studies have shown that these children are significantly more likely to be involved in criminal behavior,last year over 34% of foster care youth admitted to using illicit drugs and out of those who had aged out 24% stated that they resorted to selling drugs to support themselves. These statistics are mainly attributed to low educational achievement, frequent mental health problems, and poor social environments. A number of scholars agree that social support is a key factor in child welfare and especially crucial in the transition period from childhood to adulthood. This is important because most youth in foster care have disrupted connections with their families. Francis Cullen who has published over 200 works in criminology,holds a Ph.D in sociology and education from Columbia University argues that,“the more support a family provides, the less likely it is that a person will engage in crime”. Foster kids need a positive role model to give them support and guidance, the stories of thousand of foster kids every year aging out into the dark abyss of the world is a tragic cycle that doesn't have to continue. Our mentorship program seeks to change these statistics by providing these at risk kids with mentors; people they can trust, confide with, and lean on for support. We want these children to have the support and guidance they need, so that they can have a chance at a better future after the foster care system.

A mentor to an aging out foster care child needs to be open, responsive, informed and an active member of the community, a mentor needs to be open and able to effectively communicate with the child to talk about possible issues or problems. Foster children need to feel comfortable enough to express how they are feeling with their mentor instead of keeping it inside or trying to cope with it in a negative way. Responsive mentor should be not only able to listen to the expressions of a child but, provide appropriate feedback and take action if necessary. This is important in making sure that the child feels that they are being heard and their voice has weight too. Mentors also need to be an informed and active member of the community, this way they will possess the knowledge and have the ability to get foster children positively involved in the community, it is pertinent that the mentors are able to find outlets for the foster children to cope with things they refuse to discuss. Every mentor would have to pass a series of background checks and training seminars before they could be certified to work with the children. Mentors might not be able to solve all the problems that foster kids face but they need to able to deal with what the foster kids are willing to discuss and support them as they move into adulthood.

Having a consistent, functioning home as a child is extremely important when it comes to developing emotional and psychological health. Many studies have pointed out the deleterious impact that foster care has on children’s social-emotional well-being. Ideally, foster children find a permanent family and are able to develop relationships with them as children do with their parents in functioning homes, however this is not the case. The majority of foster children move from home to home, and are never able to establish emotional connections with the families they are a part of. This leads to problems with trust and high rates of insecurity issues for the child. “Research suggests that foster children are more likely than nonfoster care children to have insecure or disordered attachments, and the adverse long-term outcomes associated with such attachments”. They have higher rates of depression than nonfoster children, along with poorer social skills, lower adaptive functioning, and tend to be more aggressive or impulsive. All of these are a result of children in the foster care system not having a steady, consistent home or person in their life to help them with their emotional needs. In a recent study by G.M Samuels, he found that many youth are experiencing what might be termed “psychological homelessness,” having cycled in and out of relationships with biological relatives, foster parents, caseworkers, and other adults, the young adults reportedly longed for “home” and an ongoing connection with parental adults. When a child experiences an emotional connection with an adult, it benefits them in regards to social-emotional well-being and self-esteem. This is why our Mentorship program is a solution, because it provides foster children with an always-present parental figure in their life that they can turn to.

In today’s world, higher education is crucial to securing ones opportunity at a successful future. Foster children are often robbed of this however after they age out of the program. “Nearly 25% of youth aging out did not have a high school diploma or GED, and a mere 6% had finished a two- or four-year degree after aging out of foster care” These unfortunate statistics are the result of youth aging out not having a strong supportive adult to rely on to motivate them to continue on with their education. Many children throughout their time in the foster care system have poorer academic functioning, such as lower test scores, grades and sporadic attendance records due to placement instability. Our solution to this problem of having a mentor guide them through adolescence and carry on through young adulthood would be the ideal to motivating the child to pursue higher education. Because the child has crafted an emotional connection with their mentor throughout development, they feel comfortable enough to trust them when it comes to education. In a recent study, youth with natural mentors were found to have had more positive attitudes toward school. When it comes to education, it is crucial for aged out foster children to have a positive outlook towards school, and a mentorship program is the key to motivating them to not give up on their pursuit of education and ultimately a better life.

When a child ages out of foster care many are set up to receive Social Security benefits that can be used to pay for homes, education and other necessities for a bright future.  However many welfare programs take the benefits and money away from the child and uses it to fund the state, claiming that the foster child is paying back the state for taking care of them.  In 1990 the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) tried to take benefits away from a foster care child, Danny Keffeler.  His grandmother took them to court and made sure she could control his benefits in order to provide Danny with necessities that weren’t being provided by the foster care.  She saved all of the benefits that Danny didn’t immediately need and saved up for his future education.  If his grandmother hadn’t intervened the DSDH would have used up all of his benefits and he would not have graduated from Central Washington College in 2002.In this case his grandmother acted as a mentor to Danny and helped build a good foundation for his future.
Implementing a mentor program in foster cares will be very helpful in providing a stable and hopeful future for children leaving foster care.  Focusing on mental stability, education, nurturing and financial stability is absolutely imperative to a child’s future.  Without these services, children who age out of foster care have a greater chance of homelessness and legal trouble.  We believe that having one mentor per child allows personalized care for each individual.  The Irreducible Needs of Children states that one specific need of a child is experiences tailored to their individual differences and mentors would provide these individual programs. Many people think that a better solution to improving foster care is simply returning kids to their families and sending some state support to the family.  Even if they do get the stability of a permanent home, children may not be getting the nurturing and help that they need to succeed in their future.  With a mentor program they get the nurturing they need and a stable relationship with their specific mentor.  Another issue that is brought up is the accessibility of mentors in a community.  There may not be a lot of people willing to mentor older foster kids, but religious groups and colleges can help start new programs that encourage volunteers and give support to the cause.



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