Friday, December 24, 2010

Improving the Foster Care System - Part VI

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.


  1. This is a good post, but you leave out a lot of factors. For example, about half of the girls become pregnant. A quarter of these become homeless, and foster care has contributed to 35% of the US homeless population, a quarter get incarcerated. Less than half have a high-school diploma.

    Many states are addressing this issue by keeping the kids in care until age 21. Supposedly this helps to prepare them a bit, but many choose to opt out of this when they turn 18 because they're sick of it.

    To me...

    This issue is the ultimate hypocrisy because you have all of these foster parents out there talking about how they provide loving homes and care so much for these kids, until the money is cut off and they get booted out on their butts.

  2. I agree that aged out foster kids are often not well equipped for life. Sometimes it is more than the skill set though. Aged out does not equal grown up. I see a larger problem in that many if not most f. kids don't have trusted loving adults in their lives that give them guidance. It is all well and good to teach balancing a bank statement and it is important. But they need a trusted adult friend or mentor that tbey can go to when they still screw up. And who invites them for Christmas, or Thanksgiving or Hannukah. I am not quite sure logistically how this would work but I wrote a bit of it over on my blog a while back when I decided what I wanted to do when I grow up.

  3. Our children are adopted from foster care, but we are still dealing with this as they reach that transition age. These kids have been damaged by the system (and their birth family), and are emotionally unable to accept our support after they legally age out of the system; they can't trust us and think they have to do everything themselves. Because of their mental illnesses and issues they will most likely not be able to hold a job.

    The school is also not supporting them (they're not addressing the realities of our kids' issues with the kids - my high school aged learning disabled child in special ed is being allowed to believe that she can become a neurosurgeon instead of focusing on realistic attainable goals. My son is 17 and can't fill out a job application). They will graduate high school without the ability to get a job and support themselves.

    We are trying everything we can, but our kids will NOT be ready to live on their own when they graduate high school. Truthfully very few people are. The system needs to extend through young adulthood, and support the parents in helping the kids get practical skills too.

    Mary in TX


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