Everyday, we hear about issues — ranging from fights over dresses to fights overseas. Yet, lacking are the tales of America's downtrodden — those most vulnerable. At the forefront of that group are children and young adults, namely foster and former foster youth. While we hear of their stories, they have not yet entered our everyday conversation or concern.
Usually, the stories of foster care at the front page of the newspaper are reactionary. The stories are reactions to the latest group home tragedy, the foster parent who abused a child, and so on. While they all add to the conversation, they do nothing to continue it. The knowledge of foster care shown by mass-media is piecemeal, giving us glimpses into the lives of these youth, while hardly ever providing a base to continue the conversation.
Some issues, like gay marriage or abortion, we hear about and discuss regularly, yet these young people, who are often living in America's most tragic circumstances, remain unheard. Often, people have no understanding of what foster care is — even those most educated. While almost everyone knows the term and have some idea of what they think it means — likely related to orphanages — most have no idea of who foster youth really are.
Currently, foster youth face abysmal statistics across a multitude of areas, including incarceration rates, educational outcomes, income levels, homelessness rates, etc. Most people are unaware that only around 2% of foster youth obtain a college degree, that at least a quarter experience homelessness sometime after aging out of "the system" or that less than half have sustainable employment by the time they're 24.
Everyday, another youth ages out to no home, no family and no support system. Yet, we don't know because the sustained conversation needed for awareness is sorely lacking.
Often, people ask what needs to be done for the system to be changed. While no one has all of the answers, it's obvious that, before any real change can be made, these issues must be brought to the forefront of our everyday discussions. Without increased conversation, understanding and awareness, there will never be transformative action.