Monday, December 19, 2016

Foster Care Youth –An Invisible Dilemma

I had never considered Foster Care youth and what issues they might be facing –especially going out into the world as young adults. Then I learned.

Issue #1 The Foster Care System Itself

Everyone knows about some of the issues with the foster care system and I think I may have spoken before about how broken and abusive it has become in general. It’s just sad that a child or teen can be passed on like a playing card through so many homes never really finding a place where they are “at home”. They don’t usually have great adult role models around and the emotional/mental struggles they face can be intense.

Issue #2 Mental Health Resources

Whether it’s a kid/teen in the system or someone coming out of it the availability of Mental Health resources and the ability to afford them is very limited. Basically it looks like this: Jennifer was physically abused by her father as a kid and was sent to a foster care home where she then felt alone, isolated, and yet surrounded. She has had several people passing over her case management file and it was determined at some point –likely her teenage years –that she has in fact developed a mental disorder and is generally depressed and needs counseling/medication.

ESPECIALLY if Jennifer is 18 or older and getting out of the system, she is likely unable to afford medication and even if she did the center she would go to to get it would have her come in briefly, get her a months’ worth of medication, and then not follow up –if she even got in because those places are over-burdened and crowded.

This is a happy-go-lucky scenario compared to some of the more severe cases out there and even some of the more common ones.

In spite of Colorado in particular having Mental Health-focus in part because of the Columbine Shooting, Aurora Shooting, and Planned Parenthood Shooting, there is a severe deficit in Mental Health support services right now.

Issue #3 The Education System for Foster Care Youth

It’s hard for lots of teens to focus on school in general –let alone if abuse is present or has been enacted, let alone if they’re in poverty, let alone if they’ve got mental health issues, let alone if they have no positive adult support system around them. Lots of foster care youth are shuffled from unstable environment to unstable environment and focusing on school –especially depending on their age –is very challenging if next to impossible.

What often ends up happening is a kind of break in fundamental learning. If you start to learn addition and subtraction and then are moved to another home mid-school year and placed in an entirely new location where they’re now learning fractions and division it directly disrupts your understanding and a lot of youth just kind of can give up in general at some point.

Then when young adult foster care youth try to enter into community college to gain some refreshers on basic learning courses, they struggle to keep up and most of the time there aren’t even any credits in those courses and they earn nothing. They need direct assistance and tutoring to fill in the specific gaps in learning that they’re missing and there isn’t anybody there to help them in that way. So they again kind of give up and just focus on finding a job –which is usually a very low-paying one.

Issue #4 Homelessness

You can see how ALL of these factors can lead to the vast majority of foster care youth becoming homeless. Especially with girls who have been sexually abused, human trafficking comes up as an issue a lot in particular for them since they are more vulnerable. Boys who come out of foster care and become homeless face the issue of having a high likelihood of getting sent to jail for non-violent crimes like petty theft, sleeping in a park, or masturbating “in public” behind a dumpster (in these instances they are then registered as a sex offender).

After incarceration the likelihood of getting work becomes nearly impossible without assistance and many just go back to being homeless. 

Issues #5 “Safe” Homes

Each year a certain number of housing vouchers go out to mostly low-income families in need and a small portion are extended to youth at-risk of being homeless (especially foster care youth). These vouchers are usually good for $800 worth of rent. The “affordable” rent apartment start in the $1000s. This means these youth are usually sent to the cock-roach infested apartments where sex offenders and pedophiles tend to reside.

They then seek to find work or attempt to pursue continuing education in these sorts of environments.

Issue #6 A Holistic Approach

As far as I can tell these is no one-stop-shop non-profit organization that can handle all of these issues. Some non-profits focus on handling housing and counseling. But getting them the Mental Health services they need, career guidance, continued education guidance… all these other resources are recommended to them, but are scattered and external. So these youth have to be their own case managers and go out seeking these services actively and often times there simply isn’t enough support to go around because the system has so many people in need in those ways as well. 

It just seems like children are being handed one derailment after another and no one is really around to make these problems more visible so they don’t have to face them alone. There is a lack of visibility and therefore a lack of support and it leads to kids falling through the cracks. Everyone who gets to know any youth in this situation only wants for them the same as you would want for yourself or any person: Personal Empowerment and the Freedom to Pursue Dreams.  

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