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Pay attention to your children

You’ve probably been ignoring your children. This isn’t simply you not paying attention to them because you’re distracted or need to do something. You don’t know what your children like and dislike. You don’t know their names and ages. You probably haven’t even acknowledged the existence of some of your children. You may be thinking “How could I not know how many children I have?” or “I don’t even have children!” and find the assertion that you’re ignoring and don’t know your children as outlandish. But equally bizarre is the fact that your children don’t know you. How can this be?

Your children are in foster care. Before you argue, let me explain. I know that you may not have a biological or adopted child who’s in foster care. But you still have children in foster care. When the state determines that a child’s parents or caregivers are not able to care and provide for a child, the state can remove the child from their home and place them in foster care. At this point, the state assumes the responsibility of parenting the child. The state uses money from taxpayers to provide for the child while in foster care. As taxpayers, you and I have a responsibility to the children in foster care. Our money is supporting the foster care system. It is our foster care system. And the children in foster care are our children.

Most children in foster care will be reunified with family. Some will be adopted. Other will enter a guardianship. However, not all children receive permanency. Some remain in foster care until they are adults. Eventually, these young adults who do not obtain permanency—through no faults of their own—leave foster care. These young adults are often referred to as “youth aging out” or “care leavers.”

Research consistently finds that compared to their peers who have not been in foster care, those who are “aging out” of foster care have poorer outcomes across multiple domains, including education, employment, housing, health, mental health, substance use, justice system involvement, and early parenting. As they are leaving foster care and entering adulthood, many of these young adults experience hardship and encounter structural barriers. These young adults typically lack support and resources as they age out. How is this a concern to you?

The current social norm is that parents support their children during the transition into adulthood. Parents of young adults often provide their children a place to live, assist with paying bills, help in times of crisis, offer encouragement, and provide guidance. Most young adults are not told by their parents “you’re on your own” on their 18th birthday when the state recognizes them as adults. However, when someone in foster care enters adulthood, they can find themselves without support. They may lose access to resources and services. There are some areas where extended foster care is available, allowing a young person to remain in foster care. However, not all young adults decide to remain in foster care. Other programs may be available based on where a young person is aging out and their life circumstances; however, many young people aging out still struggle.

These are our children aging out of foster care. To be consistent with the social norms, we should help those who are aging navigate the transition to adulthood. There are many ways that taxpayers can help young people aging out. First and foremost, we need to know about the young people in and aging out of foster care and recognize the importance of helping them. How each of us helps these young people is going to vary based on our resources and abilities. The ways we make a difference and help young people aging out of foster care are practically endless. It all starts with us adopting the mindset that children in foster care are our children and that we must pay attention to our children.

Featured image by Aditya Romansa via Unsplash, public domain.

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