30,000. 115,000. As a nation, we’re consumed by billions and trillions as measures of economic and political policy conversations. So, by comparison, 30,000 doesn’t seem like much. 115,000 is more, but compared to a $14 trillion national debt, it is hard to pay attention. We’ve become immune to the power of numbers because we speak in unimaginable proportions in a 24/7 news cycle. We talk in terms of billions and trillions, without any real concept of what it means.
But when it comes to children, we need to reset our mental calculators and truly understand what the numbers mean. 115,000 individual children are in the United States foster care system, through no fault of their own, as victims of abuse, neglect and abandonment, and are waiting for adoptive families.
Let’s put that into scale – the Ohio State University football stadium on any weekend in September, seats just over 100,000 fans. If we tried to seat all the children in foster care waiting for a family into seats at OSU stadium, 15,000 would have to squeeze into a shared one.
And now, think about this — every year, as the cycle of children moving in and out of the child welfare system continues to relentlessly spin, 30,000 of these children turn 18 years old, are pushed out of their seats in the child welfare “stadium,” and are asked to make it on their own. 30,000 individual children who were thrust into government systems of care, moved from house to house, asked to cope with issues of grief, abandonment and loss and are given no more than a broken promise of a family and a home as they work to find their way.
LT is one of these children, and has invested her heart into a compelling online journal of her thoughts and experiences, I Was a Foster Kid. She is self-described as a “20-something who is trying to make it in the world” and notes that she entered care at age 7, lived in 13 different homes, aged out at 18 and that foster care both saved and failed her. In her blog, she writes:
“Oh foster care, remember me? – LT — now a young adult, still skinny with blond messy hair. It hasn’t been that long since you kicked me out, so I know you really didn’t forget, although you pretend to… if you pretend to forget about the aged-out kids, your job doesn’t bother you much. Is it easy to pretend to forget? Is it easy to pretend that the street kids begging for food weren’t foster kids? Is it easy to pretend that the street kids turning tricks weren’t foster kids? Is it easy to pretend that the roof-top kids weren’t foster kids? Tell me, is it? It’s not easy for us to forget, foster care.”
We cannot close our eyes and pretend that a child of 18 will be just fine on her own, but, as those charged with their safety and their care, we do just that every day. And every day, 82 more children are released from care and asked to find housing, employment and lifelong connections on their own. We feel better because we create policy that gives them access to independent living resources, or grants or professional connections, but are shocked when they stumble into homelessness or substance abuse or early parenting, when what they really needed before they turned 18, was an adoptive family and a home.
Please read through LT’s brilliant journal. Then call us and ask how you can help stop the pretense of foster care success for children who age out, confront the excuses of why we failed to honor their childhood, and find each and every one of the 115,000 waiting children in this country the families and the homes that we have promised to them and that they deserve.