May is National Foster Care Awareness Month. As soon as the month starts, I always post something on my Facebook or send out a tweet acknowledging the event. Every year I am surprised by a comment a friend makes to my post. This year, a friend of mine who is well-aware of my 15-years of foster parenting, commented on an article in the Arizona Republic that shared the difficulty for a kid in care to get a driver’s license. For me, it was another example of how little the general community knows about the struggles of kids in foster care.
In all honesty, while I have been a foster parent I understandably cannot totally empathize how life changing being in foster care can be for a kid. To prove this, last week I was challenged by a young man who has aged out to put myself “in his shoes” when he was a foster youth. He asked me to pick one of these challenges:
Challenge One: Get patted down for a week each time you return home.
Challenge Two: Go without utilizing your cell phone for a day and only use a land-line when making phone calls (bonus-you are only allowed three calls for a max of 15 minutes per call).
Challenge Three: For 3 days ask permission every time you want to get into the fridge or pantry to eat (bonus- for 3 days ask permission to participate in ALL activities including work, cooking, going anywhere apart from work, and participating in any recreation activities).
When he gave me this this challenge he told me that these were all things that happened to him when he was in foster care. Can you imagine? What an invasion of privacy and lack of trust when you are frisked every time you walk in to a home. It is not only humiliating, but emotionally hurtful and something that will never leave his memory.
I never even thought of these things and certainly never considered them for my children. And, if you think this is just a one-time occurrence, you should know that there are 3,753 kids between the ages of 13 & 17 in AZ foster care today. And whether they live in a group home or with a foster family, there are challenges we can never imagine. That’s why we need a Foster Care Awareness Month!
It is also important to note that that there are still more than 17,000 kids in Arizona’s foster care system who have experienced trauma and instability like the young man above. That’s why we need a Foster Care Awareness Month!
And if you think that it is just something a kid can get over, then you truly don’t understand the trauma and issues of being in foster care. Here are facts about outcomes for kids in foster care …
- The average reading level of 17- and 18-year-old foster youth is seventh grade
- Children in care miss an average of five weeks of school per year
- Less than 60 percent of young people who age out of foster care will graduate high school by the age of 19
- Of those that do go to college, only 4 percent graduate with a degree by age 26
Therefore we need a Foster Care Awareness Month!
As a community, we have to do better. If you want to learn more about life in foster care, here are two sources:
Fostering Advocates Arizona. This is a local organization that provides support to help share what it is like to be in foster care. There are stories that you may find interesting or maybe even a way you can lend a hand. http://www.fosteringadvocatesarizona.org
Foster My Education. This is a national program from Children’s Rights that also has some stories about life in foster care. Fostering the Future