“My first day in college I was excited, I was happy,” Mia told Children’s Rights. “I felt grown.” It sounds like the typical college experience, but her journey was far from typical. She entered foster care when she was a baby, and was adopted twice only to re-enter care. She says she endured “my share of abuse sexually, physically, verbally, mentally, all you can imagine,” in one of her adoptive homes.
Even after attending four different high schools–thanks to being bounced between foster homes–Mia still managed to graduate with honors and go to college. Her story is inspiring and, unfortunately, all too rare among foster youth.
According to a comprehensive ongoing study, only 30.7 percent of former foster youth earn high school diplomas. Meanwhile, 78.2 percent of the overall population graduates from high school. A former foster youth’s odds of graduating college are even worse, as only 2.5 percent complete a four-year degree. With more than 650,000 kids spending time inU.S. foster care every year, many of whom experience multiple moves, inadequate psychological care and the effects of psychotropic drugs, the number of children whose educational needs are going unmet is staggering. Success can seem impossible.
“Not many of us in foster care allow ourselves to succeed,” is how Mia puts it. “Not many of us think we can. We grow up thinking we’re not worthy. Especially when we’ve been told that.”
This mental struggle can be made worse by the real-world barriers these youth often face. More than 35 percent of former foster youth have dropped out of post-secondary education programs and the most common reasons cited are being unable to afford school and needing to find work. Former foster youth typically don’t have the kind of support networks that some of their peers do, which means making ends meet while enrolled in school can be doubly hard.
“I’m one of very few success stories in the foster care system,” says Mia. “A lot of us get to the point where we feel like….everyone expects us not to make it.”
Children in foster care not only deserve to be safe from abuse and neglect, but to become happy and productive adults. That’s why Children’s Rights is pushing for states like New Jersey to do a better job of connecting foster youth to programs that can help them pay for college. In metro Atlanta, our reform plan keeps more kids in their home counties, which helps stop the cycle of school-switching that Mia experienced. The reforms and post-foster care services we fight for are proven to improve a foster child’s odds of success in all areas, including education.
While Children’s Rights has secured court-ordered reform plans in nine states, there is much work to do. You can help make a difference in the lives of America’s forgotten children by making an online donation and joining our supporters onTwitter and Facebook.