Before I get on to sharing this week's thoughts about how the foster care system can be improved, I'd like to wish all my Christian readers a very Merry Christmas. I hope your holiday is wonderful. For those of you who are parenting difficult kids, I wish you peace, and hope that this year your kids have healed enough so that you all survive the holiday.
Merry Christmas, and Happy Holidays to all!
My thoughts this week are less about the foster system as it cares for kids, but rather how it treats them as they age out. Many kids "graduate" the foster care system lacking job skills, or a high school diploma, which makes it really tough to make any sort of reasonable living once they are shoved out of their foster homes on their 18th birthday.
Some "lucky" kids can go home to the families from which they were previously removed. Other less-fortunate kids have nothing at all, and they find themselves on the streets with no money, no job and often no bank account or proper identification.
I was struck recently by how insanely difficult life can be if you don't have proper identification. A friend of mine is going through the horrible Catch-22 where you can't get a state ID without proper documentation, but you can't get the documentation without a valid state ID.
These days, most states require you to have proper papers (usually a birth certificate and social security card) and documentation of a current address before you can get identification or a driver's license. But if you don't have those papers (and a lot of homeless foster children do not) then you are also effectively prohibited from having a job. Since 9/11, without proper identification and proof of address, it's impossible to open a bank account. So, even if you have job skills and are able to earn money, there's nowhere you can safely store your cash.
Even rechargeable pre-paid debit cards now require address verification.
Homeland Security may very well have tied the hands of terrorists by making it so difficult to get proper identification and bank accounts, but they've also made life very difficult for folks who are innocent of any wrongdoing. Just because they had the misfortune of being in foster care, they have fallen through a societal crack out of which it is very difficult to climb.
Even if a kid manages to make it out of foster care with proper ID, a bank account, and a job, there's no guarantee that he or she will be able to keep any of those things. Many kids aren't taught the basics of financial management, and an ill-timed job loss combined with a bounced check means the end of your bank account. Once that is gone, earning money can become difficult because some employers will only pay by direct deposit.
The foster care system has to be made responsible for the kids whose lives it touches. If a child is taken into care, it is the system's responsibility to make sure that the kid ends up with a decent education, sufficient job skills to make a living, and appropriate life skills so that she won't end up on the street on her 18th birthday.
It's all well and good for government agencies to wring their hands and complain that they have no money, but if they can't or won't support the children they take, then they shouldn't be taking them in the first place.
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