Op-Ed: Empowering foster care individuals

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Did you graduate high school? According to the National Foster Youth Institute, for 84 percent of the U.S. population, including myself, the answer is yes. I was fortunate enough to be raised by my biological parents. I did not have to go through half of the obstacles that children in the foster care system experience. Having the support of both my parents has helped me achieve one of my biggest goals: Pursuing a Master’s of Social Work degree at the University of Southern California. I aspire to help children in need. I want to be the social worker that fights and speaks up for the social justice of the children that are struggling to excel in school. However, for children in the foster care system, this is not the case.

In 2015, 58 percent of children in the system graduated from high school. According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, there are currently 427,910 children in our foster care system. Out of that, approximately 270,000 are school-aged children from age five to eighteen years old. So, what is causing this substantial gap in achievement?

Could it be that the teachers whom foster care children are being placed with do not have the expertise in helping the vulnerable population succeed? Or simply that the teacher does not care? It can truthfully be a mixture of the two, and something has to get done about it.

Data from the National Working Group on Foster Care and Education shows that 54 percent of children in the foster care system suffer from higher rates of mental health problems. Their data also indicates that this vulnerable group is known to be 2.5 to 3.5 times more likely to receive special education services. Individuals in the foster care system are obviously facing troubles that are not being addressed as a severe problem, hence the low graduation rate. If you ask a social worker, this social problem needs instant attention. Where are these individuals headed if they will not be able to maintain employment? A social worker can tell you where all these individuals are headed.

According to National Factsheet on the Educational Outcomes of Children in Foster Care, nearly 40 percent of foster youth that age out of the system become homeless within the first year, and research has shown that three of every four girls in the system are more likely to come out pregnant than their counterparts. According to researcher Matthew Lindquist, individuals who did not graduate high school are 55 percent more likely to commit at least one crime.

California may want to adopt a similar program that King County in Washington, D.C. has been using for years and has shown to have a successful impact. Treehouse is an organization set up in King County to help those in foster care succeed, and has raised foster care individuals’ graduation rate by 7 percent. Treehouse has education specialists that meet up with their students weekly, year in and year out without fail, and even during the summer. Education specialists realize how important it is to be consistent with these certain individuals, so that they can be successful.

Parents whom the children are placed with have a huge impact with their success in school. When social workers hear people that have aged out of the system stating things such as, “I discovered that so many people get involved in fostering for the money and not to make a lasting impact on a child’s life” it is really heartbreaking. Foster parents do not know how long their foster child will remain under their care, therefore many simply do not care how they do academically. I suggest that a new law be put into place, such as foster parents getting paid based off of their child’s success in school. The idea may sound absurd that the money a foster parent receives from the government for taking in a child be determined in that way, but if it is going to make a difference, then it should be done.

Lastly, are you proud to say you live in a country where only a little more than half of the foster care population is completing high school? If the answer is no, then stand alongside school social workers and advocate on behalf of foster care individuals to change the fact that only half the population in the system are obtaining a high school diploma. In order for a social problem to be fixed, it will take dedicated social workers who care for vulnerable groups to act upon the deficiencies. So remember, whether you have ever been part of the system or not, the lives of these children matter too. They are the future!

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