Friday, December 22, 2006

Former foster child, current social worker speaks out

READERS' FORUM: Help fill the shortage of foster families and other caring adults
Louisville Courier-Journal, May 15, 2006, pg. A8.

For me, and for tens of thousands of young people like me, the word "home" is complicated.

Unlike most of the kids we went to school with, our home address could change at a moment's notice. And sometimes the home we left in the morning was not the home we returned to after school. I spent part of my childhood in foster care.

How does someone end up in foster care? There are as many answers as there are families.

My own story is that my biological mother was born mentally retarded, and my three siblings and I were taken care of by maternal grandparents. They eventually became too physically ill to care for us.

At that time, the four of us entered the foster care system and we were eventually separated. We did not meet again until we were all of adult age and out of the system. None of us was ever adopted.

I am not telling my story so you'll feel sorry for me. Instead, I want to ensure that people in communities around the country celebrate the spirit and resiliency of kids in foster care.

Today I am employed as a social worker, and I work with foster kids and families. I also encourage more loving people to open their homes to kids in foster care.

It could be the most rewarding experience of your life and could have a lasting impact on the life of a child who feels alone. Every jurisdiction in the nation is suffering from a shortage of foster families. More and more children need you.

If you are not able to become a foster parent, there are hundreds of ways to help. For example, consider mentoring a young person who has been in foster care. Each year, nearly 20,000 of us reach our 18th birthdays and "age out" of the system.

For reasons often beyond our immediate control, the statistics for young people aging out of foster care are bleak. Only about half finish high school, and those who do graduate are often poorly prepared academically, economically and socially for college. Only 11 percent of us go on to college or vocational education. How can you brighten this picture?

Call Specialized Alternatives for Families and Youth at 800-600-7239 to mentor a young person who is preparing for living on his or her own.

There are many ways you can act as a guide: Offer an internship or apprenticeship; provide one-on-one job training; help navigate health insurance options; teach him or her how to drive a car; offer guidance in how to apply to colleges and for scholarships; invite a young person for holidays or regular visits.

I've seen far too many well-meaning people assume that kids like me are the responsibility of "the system."

While that is true to a certain extent, we are also frequently the responsibility of no one in particular. Many of us have no adults who claim us out of love or duty or kindness. And a large number of us leave foster care alone and with no one to turn to for reassurance.

.... I know that I wouldn't be as far along in life if concerned adults hadn't offered me a hand. Won't you be the one to change a lifetime for a deserving young person?

Lexington 40505


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