Eighteen years old to a lot of parents is an extremely transitional and important time in their children's' lives. This means that their child is in or graduating from their senior year of high school and they are getting prepared for college; buying bedding for their dorms, buying flips flops to wear in the communal bathrooms, and saying goodbye to the wonderful relationships made in high school.
This is the case unless of course you were raised by the Foster Care system in America. Most teens have the chance to transition from adolescence reliance to adult independence slowly. Typically these years allow many years for education, professional experimentation, and emotional growth. Teenagers in foster care enjoy no such luxuries of time and support. Most are foster children one minute then completely on their own the next.
Every year the number of children emancipating from the foster care system is growing, and the number of resources for those children is stagnant. Because less than two percent of sixteen-eighteen year olds get adopted in America, a plan needs to be in place for them. According to the Children's Aid Society, each year approximately 20,000 children in foster care are discharged to live on their own.
Because these teenagers are already weighed down by their experiences with neglect, abuse, or even abandonment, they don't have the knowledge to leave the system. They are expected to be productive and self reliant, not to mention completely self sufficient! Who at eighteen is? Most teens at age eighteen aren't because they have parents to help them and guide them-but those who leave foster care rarely have adequate support.
The fact of the matter is that people adopting want cute babies, not troubled teenagers. However, if those adopting want to make changes in others lives, they should consider thinking about the teens. Majority of teens who leave foster care don't have the knowledge and skills to go about getting employment, continued education, medical insurance, or even housing. Three out of ten homeless persons in America have a foster care history, and unfortunately without resources and services in place for the teens that leave foster care, homelessness happens more than not.
Without families and other dependable adults in these teens lives, these people are not only at high risk of homelessness; they also risk joblessness, illness, incarceration, welfare dependency, early childbearing and sexual and physical victimization. If these are options for those teens emancipating from foster care, maybe its time for Americans to wake up to what is going on around them. As citizens, we should be concerned with whether this is really a freedom for these children at all.
Emancipate is such a powerful and strong word used throughout American history; now, we just need that firm and empowering connotation to follow as it once did. What we need are programs designed to help prepare these teenagers for emancipation. Programs like Norfolk's Independent Living Program for Foster Care Youth and programs like the One Stop Model headed by the Children's Aid Society. With career planning and housing assistance, these teens could really be on the upward road to success.
Our society really has failed teenagers growing out of the foster care system. Although it is a small population, which could be contributing to their lack of support- these teens encompass a highly vulnerable population. To set up programs to aid these teens in education, health care and even money management, we could do a world of good. It is something to think about, especially if you are a mother or father with children of your own. To imagine that happening to an eighteen year old is unreal to most people. Eighteen is entirely too young to be faced with the troubles that these teens have to swim through, and hopefully stay afloat.
It is time for the public to gain attention to this growing problem in America today. America – the land of the free and the home of the brave...or the land of the limited and the home of the gutless. No one should want to fall into the latter category and we should all want to see change happen in the child welfare system in America.
By Kathleen Varner
22 October 2006