Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Where Have All the Children Gone?

Lately I’ve encountered a number of kindred spirits on Adoptionblogs.com. Some of them have been kind enough to respond to posts on my personal blogs, and have even helped me to promote my sites by linking them to their own.

One of these special moms, Diane, wrote me today to alert me to a three-part series on the fate of children who “age out” of the foster system. (To read the whole thing, go to www.prayingforaprodigal.blogspot.com.) It reads in part:

National studies (Child Trends 1999) have shown that within 12-18 months of leaving foster care:
  • 40% will not have completed high school;
  • 50% will be unemployed;
  • 33% will be on public assistance;
  • 38% are emotionally disturbed;
  • 50% had used illegal drugs;
  • 25% had been “involved with the legal system” (e.g. with criminal records).

Furthermore, 40% of the nation’s homeless were in foster care as children (Life Coach Homes, 1999). Diane observes that “foster children who age out of the system bring with them ‘an accumulated set of problems that make a successful transition to adulthood difficult.’”
Knowing the statistics, Diane writes, “how can any of us sit back, expect the government to solve these issues, and feel we are supporting our youth in trouble?”

In Michigan last year, 500 children “aged out” of the foster system at age 18. Given their prospects, it is gratifying to know that Jennifer Granholm has signed us up to participate in a six-state task force to study the problem, and learn what other states are doing to assist these teenagers as they transition into adult life and to “listen to the concerns” of the affected youth. (For more info, go to http://www.michigan.gov/dhs/0,1607,7-124--135046--,00.html)

Still, I wonder: Given the cash-poor, job-poor economy in which we find ourselves, is a task force really going to make a difference? Wouldn’t the money be better spent, say, funding a kind of “transition village” that would provide vocational training and life skills – budgeting, problem-solving, and other necessary skills through a kind of privatized mentor program?

When I lived in California, the state matched up schools with local businesses who supplemented the existing budget with school supplies, lunch-hour tutoring volunteers, and other practical assistance. Wouldn’t it be cool if each of the 500 kids “aging out” could be partnered with an organization that would not only offer them on-the-job training, but practical assistance as well, to get them started?

And wouldn’t it be cool if the first “batch” of recruits came from members of faith-based communities, who believe in the power of the human person to change for the better?

Hey, I have a dream… Anyone want to dream with me?