Just recently, I attended a Kentucky Derby themed party full of all the pomp and pageantry one might expect from such a highbrow affair.
There were the purposely-audacious hats, the colorful suits, delightful finger foods (the chilled shrimp was to die for), casino games and mint juleps a plenty. There was a mini fashion show, outside were men and women puffing on cigars – I even took a few puffs – and everyone seemed to have the time of their lives. It was a grand affair indeed.
And after the ritzy event, everyone returned to their customary lives. For me that meant just hanging out enjoying an atypical sunny Saturday – yeah, it’s May, but it’s also Minnesota and the sun has been a rarity around these parts. I tooled around in my car, chatted it up with friends and went on about the day with few worries and minor cares. But for six of the Derby party attendees – the guests of honor – returning to their customary existences probably was a bit different. For them, their daily existences are filled with uncertainty, strife and sometimes even horror.
The six attendees who were the guests of honor were the reason for the party. The party was a fundraiser for Connections 2 independence (C2i), a non-for-profit that assists in transitioning foster teens and young adults in adulthood. The six honored guests are all in the foster care system. Most likely, all will go un-adopted. All are ethnic minorities – five African-American and one of Columbian origin. These six represent the hundreds of thousands of forgotten children who languish in the foster care systems throughout the nation.
And the systems are broken.
According to Jessica Rogers, executive director of C2i, 53 percent of the homeless population in America has been in foster care, foster children have a graduation rate of only 45 percent and of that, just 14 percent of kids in foster care go on to post secondary education.
I say again, the systems are broken.
Somewhere along the way, the needs of the children took a back seat to bureaucracy, red tape and gross incompetence. How else do you explain a willing grandmother wanting – begging – to adopt her own grandchildren being denied that opportunity by the state of Minnesota?
One of the primary reasons why the systems are broken is because there’s little support for adoptive families. According to Michelle Chalmers, co-founder of Ampersand Families, a non-for-profit seeking to find permanent adoptive homes for foster children ages 10 years and older, foster families have 24-hour access to services, but those same resources are not available for adoptive families. Chalmers said basically, once a child is adopted, supporting counties basically wipe their hands of the child. It’s the same when a child ages out of foster care.
Another reason the systems are broken is because there are systems and not a system. Laws and standards for foster care vary from state to state and county to county within the states. There’s no uniformity whatsoever.
May is National Foster Care Awareness Month, but we need to shine a year-round light on the issues of our nation’s foster children. For most of the kids in foster care they’ve already been let down by their biological parents and the various county systems are in many ways just as disappointing – in some cases, more disappointing.
Our nation’s children deserve better.