With several nationally acknowledged days, weeks and months, proclaimed throughout the year, it would be easy to regard National Foster Care Month as just another period of earmarked time that comes and goes. Why take notice of it to begin with? What’s so important to bring up? Does it simply serve as a marketing launch pad for a cause, or is there something more to consider here?
Most everyone would agree that family is the bedrock of culture and society, and the absence of a loving, stable and nurturing home during a child’s formative and developmental years is often replaced with trauma, chaos and uncertainty. For countless decades, caring adults have offered their homes and lives both formally and informally, stepping in the gap for children and youth to provide the love, hope and stability they so desperately need. The level of care and sacrifice necessary for this journey is truly a selfless act, and one that must be taken with nothing expected in return.
Imagine inviting a child/youth to live in your home, investing in a close relationship with them by demonstrating love and care, building trust, and instilling hope and confidence, all with the purpose and intention of helping to restore and reunify a fractured family. This is the primary mission of a foster family. But what if this doesn’t go so well? What if it’s legally determined not to be in the best interest of the child/youth to return to their biological family? Of equal importance, a foster family is to be a safety net for these types of outcomes, while continuing to serve as a beacon of support for the child/youth. I know of no more difficult job! And time goes on….
Their journey has just been re-defined. Sadly, they are on a new path. Their foster family will look to provide much of the glue necessary to help fill in the family fractures they’ll need to recover from. In addition to past trauma, their continued journey will likely be marked by more traumatic forks in the road from multiple foster home placements and further fractured relationships. And time goes on….
“Ahhhhh… Finally 18… Freedom!” A huge sigh of relief comes over the youth. “I’ve aged-out of the system. I’m on my own. I can make my own decisions. It’s finally over!” But is it? Most youth soon realize after turning 18 that their new found sense of freedom is only temporary, as the reality that life is just beginning and a whole new direction and set of responsibilities has quickly come upon them.
Not every youth will age-out of the system with an open case at 18 and be regarded as a “non-minor dependent”, qualifying for extended foster care support until 21. For those who do, these helpful funds often dry up before the youth is able to finish college or become established in a trade or tech career. The disruptive effects of trauma coupled with changing placements (its own trauma), often sends a foster child/youth on a very different life trajectory and pace, both developmentally and educationally. So what happens now?
Remember, this is a journey (did I already say that?). Journeys take guides… sometimes more than one, and different types for different purposes. Children growing up in healthy intact families with love, support and encouragement already have a tough enough time launching into life. Imagine having a very different journey. Imagine having little or no resources and support as you seek to start life in the OC – one of the 3 most expensive areas in the country to make it.
What’s the likelihood that you’ll earn enough money to live without facing potential homelessness? Where’s the hope you will become educated or trained in a career field that will sustain you? These are real questions that unfortunately are all too familiar to many aged out foster youth.
Young and old, these traumatized and scarred lives are out there. One at a time, each is just trying to make it through another day along their journey; as are all of the amazing foster parents who care for many of them. But what can you do? How can you help? This is why we stop to consider National Foster Care Month! Maybe you’ve thought of being a foster parent, or maybe you’re too overwhelmed by the idea but still want to help. All are welcome!
You can become a Orange County foster parent by contacting the County directly at oc4kids.com or by contacting any of a number of private foster family agencies near your area who will assist you in the process. If you’re already a foster parent, OC United has a number of ways to support you! Our Resources, Education, Support for Parents & Interventions for Trauma-Sensitive Environments (RESPITE) Program offers trauma-informed Parent & Family Direct Support Options, Parent Trainings, and Wellness & Resiliency Classes. You can also find ways to become involved and help support aged out foster youth who are part of our THRIVE program. For more information on these opportunities, please visit www.ocunited.org and reach out to us by clicking GET INVOLVED at the top of the page. They need you!
– Jim Deming
Director, THRIVE Program for Former-Foster & At-Risk Youth