Why do I care about children in foster care?
Many folks ask me why I have come to care so deeply for the foster care community, especially the children. My career in education started over 40 years ago and as a teacher, a principal, and later as a education director of a juvenile correction facility. In each stage of my career I worked with children in foster care nearly every day. However, my assumption that I truly understood the challenges children in foster care face. Did I truly understand the children in foster care I worked so hard to educate? As it turns out, I only saw the tip of the iceberg.
As any social services professional knows, children in foster care are in your classroom, in your school, or in the detention center. You meet their caseworker, their foster parents or their CASA worker, but many of us rarely have time to get to know the children we work tirelessly to protect. The children in our charge come and go so fast that we never really connect with them. It was not until I joined the Spokane community over a decade ago and was offered an opportunity to design a program to mentor and track young adults close to aging out of the foster care system. These young adults, who were attending high school, lived with a wide variety of families facing a very diverse set of challenges. It was through my work with with the Safety Net Program that I truly started to learn about the complexities of the foster care system. When I was able to sit with children in foster care we engaged through Safety Net, I would go visit their foster homes, see where they lived, drink coffee with these young adults, and hear their stories. It was only after listening to these young adults, on the edge of aging out of the foster system and at risk for becoming homeless, that I started to understand their challenges.
My eyes have been forever opened and what I saw would break the heart of even the most stoic of people.
What I learned about children living in the foster system
I invite you to watch this short film. I watch every video I can find on the internet that depicts the challenges that children in foster care face and I think this is the one that paints the most accurate picture.
The outcomes for children in foster care are heartbreaking
What I learned is that these children who grew up in the foster care system and never found a forever home face so many challenges:
- Less likely to graduate from high school
- Only 2% of children in foster care who enter college will graduate
- 40% or more of children in foster care become homeless after leaving care
- Teen pregnancy and drug abuse for children in foster care
- Children in foster care are five-times more likely to have post-traumatic stress disorder
- 48% of children in foster care will suffer from chronic unemployment
As I mentioned earlier, I only knew the tip of the iceberg and even these startling facts are but the beginning. Children in foster care face these issue due to no fault of their own. These issues stem from a single root cause - they have been neglected, abandon, and can no longer live with parents who brought them into this world.
There are children entering foster care every two minutes in the United States
Even as I tap out this post, a child is being put in a car by an underpaid and overworked social worker. Imagine being that child; you have just experienced the most traumatic event of your young life. You might have just seen a horrific act of violence, watch your parent overdose on opiates, or you may not have seen your parents for almost a week and are desperate for someone to cook you a hot meal. At this most desperate of moments, you need the love and compassion of a family. That is when foster families step up to the plate and welcome these children into the loving embrace they so desperately need. This is why I have begun this journey with Embrace Washington. It has been through connecting with foster families who love these young children, many of whom will not stay with them for very long, that inspired me to work in service to the foster care community. We cannot change the reason that children go into care, but we can make a difference right here in our own community.
How is Embrace making a difference?
Embrace Washington is committed to removing any roadblocks that would prevent a child from entering a loving and supportive foster home. While in foster care, we work tirelessly to give that child a chance to be just a child. What does that look like? Well, it could be a supplying a bed or bunk bed to a foster family who only had an hours notice that they would have a new family member. It is all too common for a foster parent to receive a late night call from a social worker and hear, "Do you have room for one more child or to take a sibling group of three?" Foster parents do have room in their home and hearts, but they do not have room in their budget for the things to accommodate these sweet children coming to live with them. This is where Embrace steps in. We provide beds, bunk beds, bedding, car seats, baby gates...whatever a family might need to welcome this child, or several children, into their home.
Embrace Washington wants children to be children!
Embrace Washington wants foster children to have a chance to explore and discover their talents for sports, science, and the arts. So many of our foster children have spent their entire childhood just surviving their own trauma. We want these children to experience the joy of being a child and we accomplish this through a program called Wish. Embrace Washington Wish provides funds to pay for dance lessons, gymnastics, football, or any other childhood experiences many of us take for granted, but for a child in foster care it is a once in a lifetime opportunity to be a child. By giving a child in foster care the opportunity to excel in a sports, science, or the arts you may change the direction of their life.
Embrace Washington supports families
Embrace Washington sponsors family events allowing foster children to participate in family activities. We sponsor activities such as indoor football game, trips to the circus, father-daughter dances, and bowling. Simple activities we enjoy for our families, but take for granted are also high on our priority list. For example, something as simple as wrapping Christmas presents. Many children in foster care have never experienced the simple joy of preparing for the holidays with their family. At our Christmas party, we have a gift room where children can pick one gift for an adult and our volunteers help them with wrapping and tagging this gift. Being able to choose and give a gift to a family member at the holidays may be their first time in their life. This simple activity is a memory maker for a foster child.
Commitment for a Lifetime
I am blessed to have the privilege of working in service to the foster families and their foster children in eastern Washington. My life has been so enriched by this experience and it has been such a truly wonderful experience. I shamelessly tell everyone that will listen to my story and I am so grateful that my family and friends have joined me on this journey. Each member of the Embrace Washington's family, along with our volunteers, have touched the lives of many foster children and helped them feel loved and wanted. We have over 250 volunteers who have given of their time and hearts to embrace the foster families we are privileged to serve. What I find truly humbling is that our volunteers continue to serve along side us year after year. I know for myself, this has become a life time commitment.
Yours in service,
Executive Director of Embrace Washington