May is Foster Care Month and while the month is winding down, the foster care crisis in our community stays with us all year. On any given day, 3,500 children are living in foster care in San Diego County. These children have suffered abuse and neglect and their families have been torn apart. Some children enter the foster care system and stay for a short time; others never leave until they come of age.
The younger a child is placed in foster care, the greater the likelihood that he or she will develop mental health issues. School-age foster children tend to place lower in academic achievement and are twice as likely to drop out of high school. Youth who leave foster care at age 18 suffer from high rates of homelessness, poverty and mental illness. By the age of 20, 25 percent of former foster youth will become incarcerated. And there are many other such staggering statistics.
Foster care is a community issue. As business people, you are more affected by the foster care crisis than you might realize. The cost of supporting foster children carries through into adulthood, which means increased social services. Unfortunately, crime is a byproduct of foster care, as is an uneducated workforce, due to the poor academic performance and dropout rate correlated with foster children.
What can businesses do to help?
• Foster parents, those who take children into their home, and adoptive parents, those who adopt foster children as their own, need support. If you have an employee who is either a foster or adoptive parent, provide them with flexible hours and extra time off. Many foster children also have special needs that require medical appointments and extra care. Foster children thrive when they have quality, one-on-one time with the adults in their lives.
• Consider creating internship programs for foster children still in school and for foster youth who have aged out of the system and need help developing workplace skills. Many foster youth are highly motivated to succeed, despite the odds they face. By offering an internship, you would be helping to put a youth on the road to success.
• Hire foster youth and former foster youth. Once a child turns 21, the services provided to them are limited. While some funds are available to further support these youth, it often isn’t enough, especially in San Diego where the cost of living is high. These young adults need jobs that will not only provide an income but also a sense of pride and accomplishment.
• Support private foster care agencies. Funding for foster children and youth is provided by the government, but this doesn’t cover all needs. Private foster care agencies help bridge this gap by providing educational and special services as well as contracting with the county to license homes, recruit foster and adoptive families and place children in their care.
Financial support to private agencies will give children quality services, not to mention something extra special like the chance to attend camp. Ask your customers to help, too, by providing funds and gifts such as new clothes and toys. Many people want to help foster children, but aren’t sure how to do so.
• Encourage your employees to volunteer. And you can volunteer, too. All types of volunteer positions are available at private foster care agencies, such as serving on a board or a committee, fundraising or helping out in the office. Any skill you have can be useful and will be welcomed!
• Persuade our community leaders to support increased funding, services and programs for foster children and for those youth and young adults who have aged out of the system. With support and education, we can break the cycle of generation after generation needing foster care … and you can be part of the solution.