October 30, 2018

What if I told you there was a way to decrease homelessness, increase literacy and reduce the burden of incarceration? Would you believe that you could do it without spending a dime? There is a silent crisis that is occurring within our country that is in dire need of our help. That crisis is children not having a permanent home.

Because we don’t have “orphanages” it’s easy to conclude we don’t have orphans. Our country has come a long way since the 1800s when children were placed on trains and sent out west to labor on farms. We upgraded to institutions in the early 1900’s, but after World War II because of public social services, orphanages have disappeared.

The current reality is quite shocking. In today’s society, orphans can most commonly be found in the foster care system, which currently has 400,000 children. Their outcomes are grim. One article I read indicated 1 in 4 will be incarcerated within 2 years of leaving the system (20,000 age out of the system without ever having the stability of a permanent home), over 20% will become homeless after the age of 18, and only 59% will obtain their high school diploma by age 19 (compared to 87% non-fostered youth).

This silent crisis is the perfect opportunity to make a difference, and here’s why.

Studies examining the influence that affection and attention have on humans have found that children who receive consistent, supportive care from at least one caretaker as they grow up are more likely to do better in school and have healthy relationships and are less likely to abuse substances, commit crimes or become homeless (CCAI).

As the holiday season approaches, it’s the perfect time of the year to focus on family. It’s also the perfect time to make a difference together. Here are three non-adoptive ways you can make a tremendous impact:

1. Learn more about the situation:

Currently there are well over 400,000 children in the system. In a given year 250,000 children will enter the foster care system, a lot of whom will remain in the system. 20,000 young adults will age out of the system without ever having a permanent family.

You can make a difference by being more aware of what the situation looks like in your own local community. Click on this link and choose your state in the drop-down menu under the national map. It will take you to a page specific to your state. I challenge you to find how many children are in your state awaiting permanent homes as well as their average age (hint: it’s near the bottom of the page).

It’s important to remember that each of these statistics is a person - with a first and last name. They are children with no voice, no advocate and no home. They are our neighbor.

2. Support local efforts:

There are many local efforts who could use your help. At the bottom of your state’s page are resources and support groups. This is a great place to find contact information.

You can also help a family that has chosen to open their home to a child in foster care. Can you rake their leaves, provide a freezer meal or two, or even offer to fold or wash laundry? This little help will go a long way!Providing respite care is another way to make an impact. You’ll have to check with your state regarding requirements, but respite care is a short-term, low commitment way to make a difference in the life of a child in the foster care system.

Small things add up. The key is being intentional and actually doing something. Starting local and understanding the situation in your community are great ways to make a big impact.

3. Doing more:

I’d like to challenge you to consider doing more. Consistent, supportive relationships make an incredible difference. There are several ways to provide this.

Volunteer your time. There are many organizations that connect mentors with children in foster care. This article mentions several ways to find those organizations.

Become a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA). This organization trains volunteers to be part of a foster child’s journey through the court system. One aspect we often overlook is the amount of court time a child in the foster care system will have - instead of making friends and playing with the neighbors, she’s in court and adjusting to new foster families and new schools. Being a constant in her journey through the court system is an incredible way to provide a consistent and supportive relationship in the role of an advocate.

Advocate. If you’re familiar with the struggles that foster families deal with and you’re ready to take your involvement up a level, this is a great time to learn about the political influences in your area and in your state. It’s a great time to consider who you will be reaching out to and what you will be asking. Speaking up for those in the trenches is an invaluable way to make a difference.

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