May is National Foster Care Month, when we acknowledge the 463,000 children and youth in the U.S. foster care system—including 3,839 in Connecticut and 8,414 in Massachusetts, where HopeWell provides comprehensive and intensive foster care services. We also recognize the array of family members, foster parents, child welfare professionals, volunteers, and policymakers who enrich the lives and expand the opportunities of youth in foster care who are in need of love, support and safe places to grow and thrive.
Providing these services can be complicated. It often involves coordination among case managers, therapists, school officials, and numerous family members. But the work is rewarding. Just ask some of HopeWell’s foster parents—folks like Margie and Rich Meikle, who have opened their home and their hearts to nearly 40 young people over 14 years of foster parenting. “I say this all the time, but we’ve gotten back as much, if not more, from the kids we provide for as we give to them,” Margie has said. “Being a foster parent has made me a thousand times better, a much better mom.”
“The best thing about being a foster parent? I mean, what isn’t?,” says Mari Gonzalez, another of our foster parents. “You get to meet so many different personalities, you get to meet so many kids from different worlds, from different nationalities … and it makes me and my family become better.”
And like any parents, foster parents have the satisfaction of providing children the space and support in which they can stabilize, grow, and heal—the effects of which can be far-reaching in the life of a child.
“My life is different because of the impact of HopeWell in the sense that I received love and I received a stable home environment,” says Tahon Ross, a HopeWell foster care alum who is now a principal in the Providence, RI, public school system. “And there were so many additional supports in place that weren’t readily available to other children in my same circumstances who navigated the foster care system.”
Indeed, given the difficulties they have experienced in their young lives, ensuring that a child in foster care succeeds often requires a comprehensive support system that includes therapy, case management, and enhanced educational services, among other interventions.
The average young person in foster care, for example, experiences between four to eight placements with different foster families—which almost always includes changing schools and a disruption in learning. It’s estimated that each change of school results in the loss of about six months of academic progress as students adapt to new classrooms and teachers take time to assess students’ academic and emotional needs.
Partly as a result of this, less than five percent of foster youth attain a college degree as compared with 49 percent of their non-foster peers. Black and Hispanic youth, who comprise nearly half of all youth in foster care in Massachusetts—even though they account for just 19 percent of those under age 18 in the state—disproportionately bear the burden of these social, emotional, and academic disruptions.
Additionally, compared with peers who were not in foster care, former foster youth are almost four times more likely to need government aid, 14 times more likely to be unemployed, five times more likely to experience homelessness, and five-10 times more likely to be incarcerated.
It doesn’t have to be this way, though. The love, support, safety, and consistency that a foster home provides can give a child the foundation on which they can build a life with meaningful connections to other people that is stable, productive, fulfilling, and joyful.
If you’re interested in learning more about foster care in the U.S. or seeking resources to support the needs of foster youth, biological parents, foster parents, kinship caregivers, guardians, or tribal child welfare workers, the federal Children’s Bureau, an Office of the Administration for Children & Families, is a great place to start. It’s chock full of the latest research, information on support groups and programs, and links to educational articles.
Learn more about HopeWell foster care services, including how you can become a foster parent, here.