More than 50 percent of America’s homeless population spent some time as foster children. The statistics are so dire that the child welfare system is sometimes described as the “highway to homelessness,” according to the National Foster Youth Institute (NFYI).
Add to that an estimated 20 percent of foster youth (one out of five) who become homeless when they age out of the system at age 18 — a harsh indictment of a system that is supposed to help children and adolescents but instead often causes harm.
Foster home licensing requirements vary from state to state, but are generally overseen by each state’s Department of Child Protective Services or Human Services and monitored by the federal Department of Health and Human Services.
Olayemi Olurin, a New York-based public defender, highlighted the tragic issue in a tweet. “Half of America’s homeless population were foster children at some point, think about that,” Olurin tweeted on Wednesday, Jan. 5, along with an image of the statistic in a book entitled “Giving A Damn” by Patricia J. Williams.
Olurin’s tweet encouraged others to share firsthand knowledge of the trauma that foster care can bring.
A Twitter user who identifies herself as foster care advocate Danie Steel responded by sharing her personal experience as a former foster child who beat the odds.
“Which is why when I speak of the odds I overcame after a decade in foster care, I don’t take it lightly. The school to prison pipeline is embedded in America’s foster care system. Even when you fight to get a higher education there is no real support for former foster youth,” Steel tweeted.
Steel added many people benefit from the foster system’s failure. “A LOT of people’s jobs depend on the failure of America’s foster youth. The focus is not on bettering these kids,” Steel added in a follow-up tweet. “Equal opportunity in education and adequate support would shift these outcomes and they refuse to provide it. No child should be left to fend for themselves.”
Twitter user @AO2k agreed with Steel, writing, “Yes indeed. We need to talk. As a former foster youth I can attest to this.”
With little or no money and resources, many foster youth have nowhere to go once they are emancipated from custody. According to an article in Foster Focus, “65% of youth leaving foster care need immediate housing upon discharge.” The same article also noted, “a history of foster care correlates with becoming homeless at an earlier age and remaining homeless for a longer period of time.”
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Some foster parents responded to Olurin and shared their experiences, encouraging others to follow in their footsteps. One Twitter user noted that foster children of all ages need support, not just the younger ones.
“My wife and I decided to only foster teens/adolescents as the need is fairly extraordinary,” @deadlyrhetorick tweeted. “Personal experience: Many people get into fostering as a means of back door adoption. They want little ones and hope to adopt. But that leaves so much need for the older kids.”
He added that youth end up in foster care for an array of reasons. “the last kid we had was never in foster care, just had circumstances that brought her in. Kids come into care for various reasons at various times. Our biggest issue has actually been the system. The apparatus can be frustrating and infuriating. The kids can be great and need u,” @deadlyrhetorick wrote.
Photo: shironosov / iStock