We need to listen to youth voices. For National Foster Care Month, Teen Vogue and the Juvenile Law Center produced Fostered or Forgotten, an excellent new series that shines a light on challenges faced by the approximately 437,500 children in the child welfare system.
The former foster youth whose voices are elevated in this series talk about trying to earn an education while in foster care. They confront their encounters with the juvenile justice system. They discuss the discrimination they faced because of their identities. Read and share these important stories with the hashtag #FosteredorForgotten:
Barriers to Education
Many children in foster care move from one placement to the next several times during their involvement with the system. This instability often prevents them from developing supportive networks and stands in the way of their education. Combined with structural issues like discrimination and maltreatment within foster placements, many foster youth are unable to finish high school.
“[Only] twenty percent of students from the foster care system who graduate high school go on to attend college, and less than 10% obtain bachelor’s degrees. Throughout my experience, one thing remained clear: Current and former foster youth need better access to resources to help us face unique challenges within, and outside of, the child welfare system.”
– Tanisha Saunders, Foster Care Activist, Former Foster Youth
“I felt that some of the teachers and administrative staff treated me like I had a learning disability because I was in foster care, had in IEP [Individualized Educational Plan], and am black.”
– Johnathan Hamilton, Youth Fostering Change Youth Advocate, Former Foster Youth
“Nobody was helping us, because we hardly existed in and barely interacted with mainstream society — we suffered unemployment, homelessness, and educational obstacles — and it was easy for us to disappear.”
– Lara B. Sharp, Former Foster Youth
Children in foster care face a disproportionate risk of incarceration. One fourth become involved with the criminal justice system within two years of leaving the welfare system. Often, their own caregivers call the police on them for minor infractions, such as physical fights or running away. Foster youth, especially girls, are also more likely to become victims of sex trafficking. These victims are then funneled into the criminal justice system.
“As soon as a kid is labeled as a ‘bad kid’, it’s really hard for them to be unlabeled. For teenagers in foster care, they’re already a group of kids that our society looks down on and thinks is trouble, so having a juvenile justice charge only exacerbates all those existing vulnerabilities.”
– Christina Wilson Remlin, Lead Counsel at Children’s Rights
“They were quick to throw the time and throw the sentences on me instead of looking for ways to help me grow so it won’t happen again.”
– Randy, Former Foster Youth, incarcerated twice as a teenager because of physical altercations
➜ Read: The Foster Care to Prison Pipeline: What It Is and How It Works by Rachel Anspach
Identity & Discrimination
Many children in the foster care system face discrimination due to their race, religion, gender and sexuality, or other characteristics of their identity. Black youth and LGBTQ youth are overrepresented in foster care and face worse outcomes during and after their time in the system. Some foster youths have to lie and hide their identity in order to protect themselves, while others are stripped from their cultures and families and forced to assimilate.
“I grew up around openly LGBTQ black foster children, and I saw first-hand how they were treated. I was fearful of becoming one of those forced into residential housing treatment facilities, just for being open about who I was.”
– Lucina Kayee, Founder of MY Generation Youth Advocacy Program, Former Foster Youth
“Considering that at present some 5 million US children live with at least one undocumented immigrant parent or caregiver … more children than ever before could be at risk of losing parents to deportation and entering the child welfare system.”
– Elizabeth Yaeger, Attorney
“By the 1970s…approximately 25% to 35% of all Native children in the U.S. were being placed in foster homes adoptive homes, or institutions, and 85% of these children were being placed outside of their families and communities, even when fit and willing relatives were available to care for them.”
– Ruth Hopkins, Dakota/Lakota Sioux writer, biologist, attorney, and former tribal judge
Fostered, or Forgotten?
Why does the child welfare system have so many structural problems? As Sandy Santana, Executive Director at Children’s Rights, says in How Foster Care Works in the United States:
“The lack of attention, public will, and political power means that in times of crisis or in times where governors need to balance budgets, the child welfare system sometimes suffers the brunt of that and gets less funding.”
Public awareness is crucial for bringing much-needed attention to the issues foster youth face. Children’s Rights commends Teen Vogue and Juvenile Law Center for highlighting these important stories and voices in Fostered or Forgotten.
Browse, read, and share the full series here.