It is National Foster Care Month. This is something that is near and dear to my heart. I am passionate about the safety and protection of children and their ability to grow up knowing they are loved and cared for.
According to the Children's Bureau, "there are over 391,000 children and youth in foster care" (Key Facts and Statistics, www.childwelfare.gov/fostercaremonth). Children who are in foster care have often experienced traumas, hurts, hardships, abuse, neglect and/or fear. They often have not had the opportunity to experience just getting to be a kid but instead have had to figure things out that shouldn't be on their minds, develop coping mechanisms to attempt to keep themselves safe, and have had to push down emotions to live in the midst of their circumstances. These types of situations often do not allow children to grow and develop with a strong sense of self and community, knowledge of the information needed for life experiences, or experience of the skills that would be useful to set them up for success.
Foster parents have the ability to make an impact in the lives of these children. In fact, they do make a big impact, whether that impact is good or bad. They can either provide the nurture, love, support, and experiences needed to potentially change the trajectory of the children's lives, or they can validate the hurtful things they have seen, heard, and/or experienced. According to the Children's Bureau, "relational permanency is fundamental to the well-being of children and youth in foster care. Stable, nurturing placements have positive impacts on children and youth's resilience and long-term wellbeing" (Key Facts and Statistics, www.childwelfare.gov/fostercaremonth).
What about the kids who are getting ready to age out of the foster care system? If they have been in a good foster home, they may have the fear of whether or not they will continue to be loved and cared for once they turn 18 years old. If their foster home has been one that has continued the experiences of trauma, hurt, and fear, the kids may be afraid of what is to come when they turn 18 years old. They may not have anyone who seems to support them and care about them. They may be scared because they don't even know who they can talk with to ask questions about life and how to do things. What do you do if you turn 18 and don't have anyone to turn to or anywhere to go?
These types of experiences leave these children/young adults very vulnerable. Many of them become homeless immediately. Many of these children/young adults do not know where they are going to get their next meal. This leaves them vulnerable to exploitation, abuse, getting involved with the wrong crowd of people who may pretend that they care but don't, etc.
What can we do? We can take time to care for these children/young adults. We can provide them with opportunities of a safe community of support. Talk with them, listen to them, and show them that they are valued. Provide them with or connect them with a safe place where they feel valued and can celebrate holidays, accomplishments, etc. We can offer them opportunities to ask questions and receive guidance. We can provide them with information about resources, such as educational opportunities, job opportunities, financial assistance opportunities, support networks. We can teach them some of the skills that they will need, such as how to apply for and interview for a job, how to budget to ensure their bills will be paid before spending money on other things, and how to take care of themselves and their things/homes.
Check on them. It is incredibly lonely and overwhelming to feel like you are facing the world alone. They need to be shown regularly that they are thought of just as everyone else does. When these types of needs are not met by those of us who want only good for these kids, there are many people with bad intentions who will swoop in to briefly meet those needs and act like they care only to turn around and abuse and/or exploit them. There are so many things that we can do to make a difference in the lives of those who have already experienced so much and deserve to experience being valued, being cared about, being safe, being set up for success, and being supported. What are you willing to do to help them?