Reader Submission by Marye Scott
I will be one of the lucky 62,000 foster youth who will graduate from a four-year college. I am a second year, first generation student who through self-sufficiency and determination excelled into higher education. I owe a thank you to my late mother, who instilled in me at a very young age that college was going to be my only way out of our hellish life; my aunt and uncle, my guardians, who gave me a safe home and my four siblings who believed I could do it all along.
Out of over 300 million people in the United States, half a million are foster children. Only half of those will graduate from high school and an eighth will graduate from a four-year college. Why so few? Because those one in eight were given the second chance every foster child deserves.
Money is not solely responsible for getting through college; money is readily available for foster children, but the knowledge needed to apply for scholarships, grants, loans and correctly complete the FAFSA is not. Besides money, they need a support system. Foster children are moved from home to home in a never-ending cycle of placements. With this constant motion there is no sense of home, belonging or the support that is embodied in families. In addition, a family provides love, encouragement, expectations, guidance, social skills and a balanced life. Foster children lack an essential home life and proper life skills, self-worth and the promise of a bright future. If these provisions are not met in addition to the lack of financial assistance, what happens to foster children?
Foster children are placed in the care of a broken welfare system in desperate need of reform. However, even potential reform which would take a decade and cost millions of dollars would not be able to fix the overwhelming number of problems as outlined by the Foster Care Work Group in their article “Connected by 25: A Plan for Investing in Successful Futures for Foster Youth.”
The article states: “The list of barriers to effectively serving vulnerable children and families and the challenges to meaningful reform of the child welfare system is long: an increasingly diverse client population; … a fragmented and bureaucratic system that is not organized to help troubled families avoid crisis but to rescue maltreated and neglected children once the damage is done; … and help that is usually too little, too late, if it comes at all.”
Unfortunately, this daunting list will not be fixed in time to help the half million foster youth who will age out of the system within the next decade. Since there are estimated to be less than 500 foster children per state, they tend to slip out of the public’s attention. This means reform is not enough and not likely.
Help is not coming. It is up to individual and communal efforts to change these children’s lives. College begins with an idea instilled in a youth by a mentor. It may be as simple as being a strong figure in their life and letting them know higher education is possible or as complex as choosing social work as a career and being able to effectively provide information on colleges. As a community, we can all implement a program to help with the needs of these children, to become part of their support system. Anything you can do helps. Perhaps you might even be able to extend your home to a foster child and allow them to become part of something miraculous, just as my aunt and uncle did for me.
Marye Scott is a Western sophomore who intends to major in sociology.