“Origins, what could this possibly mean?” Many people do not understand the different tiers of foster care and the varying statuses of children when they enter the system. Therefore, I am going to give a few definitions that better explain these important terminologies to combat stereotypes surrounding foster youth.
The terms “foster kid” and “orphan” are unfortunately interchanged terms due to the popularized movie “Annie”, when the two statuses in fact have very different meanings in the foster care system. Orphans are children who have been abandoned through neglect, separation, or death meaning the child has no form of guardianship and legally has an opportunity to be adopted by a family. Foster kids are the most common children in foster care and are children who have been temporarily placed under the care of someone other than their parents due to lack of care or proper upraising (Jerkins, 2015). For my movie goers, The Blind Side’s character Michael Oher is an example of a foster youth. Children are placed into system under this status temporarily in hopes that parents or guardians will adjust their practices and lifestyles so that they will be able to reacquire their children into their homes. If a child cannot be taken back in by their original parents or by foster parents, these children remain foster youth until they reach the age where they are no longer considered a minor. It is at this point these youths become “aged out foster youth” which is the main topic for this website and will be discussed profusely throughout this course.
"The Blind Side" (2009)
There are four main types of placements for children in the foster care system: reunited homes, orphanages, foster homes and group homes. In this course, we will cover in depth the differences between foster homes and group homes and the implications of each. Foster homes are run by certified guardians who take care of children for the government during the court processes surrounding the legalities of the child’s original guardians. Foster parents can gain custody of the children they are fostering if the legal rights have been taken from parents or original guardians and if the child also grants permission. The Department of Social Service (2007) describes group homes as places for children who have “significant emotional and behavioral issues”. From personal accounts, however, children can be placed in a group home when there are no other options available or, in some scenarios, when a foster parent no longer wants to provide guardianship for a youth. Group homes are the most common type of institutions, however most of these children are labeled as “orphans” due to common misconceptions when they are in fact foster youth.
By understanding the original foundation of the issues for foster children, who they are, and where they are in the system, youth can then better prepare for their own transition. For the rest of this course, I am going to discuss foster youth aging out and explain how your origins and where you came from influence where you are now!
At the age of eighteen, youth are expected to understand how society operates and how to successfully follow its standards and regulations. Youth who have a support system often make the transition into society relatively smoothly, but those who do not often fail to positively contribute to society, fall into lives of crime or regress into poverty. Countless studies have been published to communicate the likelihood that children entering the foster care system will fall into at least one of the negative outcomes mentioned above. One would think that more studies would be presented to children to focus on the necessary means for success, but instead, foster children are bombarded with negative opinions and told to prepare for the worst.
Studies that focus on the negative statistics may serve as public data resources, but they also strongly influence foster children and develop a negative mindset resulting in misunderstood labels and stereotypes. The negative opinion forced upon them is often the single force that pushes them down a path to fulfill the negative stereotype implemented from the beginning. From an organizational perspective, how can one create change for these children when all they ever witness is failure from others in similar situations? The best way to prevent children from ever falling into this negative statistic is to eliminate the bombarding negative stereotype that jumpstarts them toward failure and replace it with positive reinforcement, encouragement and success stories. It is important for foster children to understand that their potential is not limited to the negative statistics continually presented to them by society, but that they possess the ability and potential to control their own lives.
The Department of Social Service (2007) describes foster care as a system to provide resources and care for youth taken from situations of neglect or abuse in their home. This retroactive system does not allow these youths to practice autonomy as minors largely because they are considered too damaged or traumatized to make beneficial life decisions. (Leathers, 2005) The foster care system therefore assumes responsibility for children’s decisions and limits their autonomy in hopes to prevent misbehavior and negative statistics, yet these same youths are expected to be functioning adults by the age of eighteen. (Seale, 2008) The wealth of studies published on foster youth alone are proof that this this process is not preventing the failed transition of foster youth into society. (Wertheimer, 2002)
“So what does this guy really know anyway?” “He probably just got lucky after he aged out of foster care.” If you are wondering these things, you are right to question this and all stereotypes that surround foster youth. You should continue to search for your own truth and not just accept everything you hear; this quality will help you through the course, but more importantly lead you to your own success.
“Tomorrow is only a day a way.” Although this may not be the exact lyric from the American classic, the message demonstrates that tomorrow is achievable and will come. In Annie, our little American sweetheart could have that sunny day that she had always longed for in her gloomy days as an orphan. Her ending was a happy magical moment, but unfortunately, reality rarely ends with a hopeful song and a happy tomorrow.
I met Michael Rickman as a MSgt Flight Chief at F.E. Warren AFB. Through working together, we came to realize we had similar pasts in the foster care system. In Mi Vida, he shares his origins story and how he has gotten where he is today!
Avery, R. J., & Freundlich, M. (2009). You’re All Grown Up Now: Termination of Foster Care Support at Age 18. Journal of Adolescence, 32, 247–257
Badeau, C. (2009). No Kid Should Age Out of Foster Care Alone in America. Retrieved from https://www.fosterclub.com/_advocacy/news/no-kid-should-age-out-foster-care-alone-america
Baugh, E. J. (2008, August). A population at risk: Youth "aging out" of the foster care system and implications for extension. Retrieved from Ideas at Work website: http://www.joe.org/joe/2008august/iw3.php
Children’s Bureau. (2016, June 30). AFCARS Report #23. Retrieved from https://www.acf.hhs.gov/cb/resource/afcars-report-23
Cook, R. J. (2002). Are we helping foster care youth prepare for their future? Children and Youth Services Review, 16(3-4). Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0190740994900078
Courtney, M. E., & Gretchen , C. R. (2010). How Youth Fare As They Leave Out-of-Home Care in Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin. Crime During the Transition to Adulthood
Cusick, G. R., Hess , N., Havlicek, J., & Courtney, , M. E. (2010). How Youth Fare as They Leave Out-of-Home Care. Crime During the Transition to Adulthood
Department of Social Services (CDSS). (2007). Group Homes. Retrieved from http://www.childsworld.ca.gov/pg1349.htm
Jerkins, J. (2015, May 18). What Is the Difference Between a Foster Home and an Orphanage? Retrieved from https://adoption.com/what-is-the-difference-between-foster-home-orphanage
Leathers, S. (2005). Separation from siblings: Associations with placement adaptation and outcomes among adolescents in long-term foster care. Children and Youth Services Review, 27(7), 793–819.
Richards, G. (2014). Aging out gracefully: Housing and helping youth transition smoothly out of the foster care system. Journal of Housing and Community Development, 18-21. Retrieved from http://web.a.ebscohost.com.prox.lib.ncsu.edu/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=6e1fdd5d-8dbb-4d4a-a576-eae8b74d73fd%40sessionmgr4001&vid=2&hid=4112
National Adoption Center. (2016). What is Foster Care. Retrieved from http://www.adopt.org/what-foster-care
National Youth in Transition Database. (2016, November). Highlights from the NYTD Survey: Outcomes reported by young people ages, 17, 19, and 21. Retrieved from https://www.acf.hhs.gov/cb/resource/nytd-data-brief-5
Seale, S. (2008, February 25). Children Aging out of the Foster Care System Face Difficult Odds.
Wertheimer, R. (2002). Youth Who “Age Out” of Foster Care: Troubled Lives, Troubling Prospects. Child Trends.
Wiltz, T. (2015, March 25). States tackle ‘aging out’ of foster care. Retrieved from Stateline website: http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2015/3/25/states-tackle-aging-out-of-foster-care
During my time in the system as a foster kid, I was very limited with my freedoms and choices. My biological mother was not always allowed to visit me, I couldn’t participate in extracurricular school activities and I wasn’t allowed to get a paid part time job. These important decisions were left to the agencies in control, and unfortunately there were many times their decisions might not have been the best for me. For many foster youth, the number eighteen means more than another birthday or the opportunity to vote for our next president. For some, it is a key to control and freedom. Yet, freedom always comes with a price and Daddy Warbucks cannot fulfill payment. According to the Pew Charitable Trust, 20% will become homeless, 25% will enter the justice system, and less than 2% will end up receiving a college a degree (Wiltz, 2015). To many individuals, these percentages are either shocking or just previously accepted facts about the foster youth coming out of the system. Either reaction is a sad reflection on the foster care system, how society sees it and the children who are a part of it.
Many children that I mentor in similar situations ask me how I made the transition. In my experience, I had personal relationships that helped provide me with support and assistance. The key to successful decision-making is to be proactive and sets goals in place and ways to obtain them. This methodology paired with supportive and encouraging relationships can help give you the motivation to get through the most difficult of times. I was personally motivated to prove the stereotype about foster youth wrong. I wanted to help children like me and to do that, I needed to overcome the obstacles to get in a place to make a difference.
The pain will always be in you - but you will not always be in pain."