Foster care alumni abandoned by the educational system often become the inmates at youth detention centers and adult prisons across the country. They are the experts on what needs to change in order to create more equitable outcomes and opportunities for vulnerable populations. These orphaned inmates are the ones who could drive the creation of new methodologies, curriculum and policies to decrease risks while increasing protective factors.
Education reform is one of the foremost civil rights issue of our day, and at the heart of the dilemma is a set of very simple questions. Why do we not utilize evidence base practices that will have far-reaching benefits in establishing a foundation for better life outcomes? Why do we not create solutions that create benefit the poor? The answers to these questions are chilling, downright cowardly, and unpatriotic. The American society is afraid of change.
A 2011 survey reported that 13 percent of all foster children run away at least once, and another 9 percent abandon their foster homes to live with friends. When 22 percent of any child population flees the system which adults have provided to keep them safe, something is wrong. These youth may have insights the rest of us fail to see. Studies show foster care is a highway to health problems, homelessness, early pregnancy, arrest, incarceration, and sex trafficking. And those are the lucky kids. Foster care alumni are five times more likely to commit suicide and eight times more likely to be hospitalized for a serious psychiatric disorder. – Stir Journal
For moral, social and economic reasons, it is in the public interest to assure that an array of supports be put in place to help support foster alumni develop a strong family structure which is paramount to sustaining future successful outcomes. A primary marker for the healthy development of young families is a solid home life which can anchor children right from the start while benefiting society overall. A basic premise of sociology is the interconnectedness of society to the community and community to family. Healthy families mean strong communities, and strong communities increase the functioning of society as a whole.
Education is more than a pedagogic issue, it is a basic human right as well as society’s collective responsibility to ensure that everyone has access to a quality education. Currently, the issues related to education and its impact on the most vulnerable are a matter of national security. As evidence, the United States prison system is a direct reflection of the failures of our education system. The future of our society lies within the margins of the discarded, the poor, and the orphaned in this country.
There is no greater work more urgent, more exhausting, and more spiritually rewarding than helping to create opportunities to engage, inspire and ignite foster care alumni. Many of whom have had a lifetime legacy of being impoverished, ignored, as well as unwanted. Together, the economically fragile and advocates, can create a new reality of hope and global opportunities of economic and social mobility.
While our nation, and specifically Massachusetts, has made considerable progress in child welfare, social service delivery systems, and education, we must not lose sight of the challenges ahead. We must be purposeful in ensuring foster care alumni receive needed supports while in placement as well as opportunities for advancement post placement in order to elevate their social mobility and educational opportunities.