By: Emily Page, Guest Blogger
Imagine the uncertainty of not being sure where you might sleep tomorrow, next month, or next year. Of not growing up in the same house as your brothers and sisters. Of mornings that may not start with a smile or a gentle voice. And days spent wondering whether you’d get a meal.
Imagine being a teenager, grappling with adolescence and young adulthood, and feeling alone. Rarely being told about your worth and importance. Maybe never knowing the joy of being loved unconditionally. Or perhaps you knew that joy, but recently lost your family.
For children in foster care, these uncertainties and tragedies occur every day, often for months at a time. These circumstances aren’t imagined. They can be an all too true reality.
As National Foster Care Month comes to a close in May, consider what you really know about the foster care system in the United States. Does your perception square with the reality of the situation? Start with the numbers from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
- Across the United States, nearly 428,000 children are in the foster care system – a number that continues to increase.
- Most children are placed in foster care due to parental abuse or neglect.
- The median age of a child in foster care is 8 years old.
- 52 percent of foster care kids are male, 48 percent are female.
- For a child in foster care on September 30, 2015, the average length of time he or she had spent in the system is 20.4 months.
- In Fiscal Year 2015, 269,509 kids entered the foster care system. This means on average, 738 children enter foster care every day.
- In Fiscal Year 2015, more than 60,000 of the foster kids were 16 and up. More than 20,000 aged out of foster care, because they were too “old” to remain. Nearly 21,000 kids had case goals of emancipation or aging out after leaving foster care.
While we tend to see children in foster care as victims, it is staggering how quickly we grow to blame them for their own circumstances. Children who age out of foster care are significantly less likely to earn a high school degree, and one study found that only four percent of this population achieved a four-year degree.  They are more likely to experience homelessness, have bouts of unemployment, and lack health insurance. Males are more likely to get arrested, and females are more likely to get pregnant.
At LSS/NCA, we believe that no child should ever go unloved. While a number of children in the foster care system do have special needs; their greatest need is for a safe and loving home. Where possible, the foster care system works to reunite children with their families, and ensure that parents can be successful. However, during that in between time, children feel at risk and powerless; different; alone; and unwanted. That’s where anyone can make a significant impact on the life of a child by boldly acting and serving. There are any number of ways you can help:
- Become a foster parent. Lutheran Social Services in the National Capital Area can certify parents in Washington, DC and Maryland. Even better – consider becoming a foster parent for a teenager.
- Become a court-appointed special advocate (CASA). CASAs are dedicated community volunteers that represent a youth’s best interest in court. CASAs may be the only consistent adult in a child’s life, and they have the opportunity to help determine the best outcome for that child. Being a CASA takes about 10 hours a month. Go here to find your local program.
- Mentor a foster care child through Big Brothers Big Sisters.
- Perhaps you’ve watched your own children struggle as they transition from high school to college. Mentor a young adult through Foster Care to Success program, helping them bridge the gap from a potentially tumultuous high school experience to college. Volunteers help foster kids navigate academics, financial responsibility, and career goals.
- Offer up your photography skills. Professional photographers can take pictures that capture children’s spirits, while they are looking for their forever homes. Pictures are often the first way adoptive parents get to see their future children.
- Become a respite provider, offering temporary relief to caregivers.
- If your schedule does not have extra time, consider providing financial support through Lutheran Social Services of the National Capital Area, to support provide school supplies, play dates, or support for new foster families. It can be more fun to pick up tangible items — here’s a wish list to of items that would help foster families, or sponsor a duffel bag.
When it comes to impacting the life of a foster child, no act is too small. We are reminded of the words of Mother Theresa, for whom service to children held a special blessing:
“There is a person who needs you. Do you want to do something beautiful for God? This is your chance.”