Shanita was deflated when she was not given the support she needed to apply for a jobs program that she had her heart set on.
Deanna, so frustrated at the lack of love and support in her life, and not knowing yet again where she would be going next, threw furniture through the window.
Emilia became depressed, not seeing any way out of her situation.
These are just three examples of young people who have grown up in foster care and cannot count on adult guidance, support, or love in their lives.
There are 28,000 kids in the foster care system in Los Angeles County, according to KidsAlliance.org. Twenty percent are homeless when the system shuts the door on them at 18. Fifty-three percent become homeless within six months of leaving their foster home. Seventy percent of people in California prisons (nearly 91,000) grew up in foster care, according to the Every Child Foundation.
I can quote similarly distressing statistics all day long.
On their own, these figures can be simply numbers. It is easy to forget that behind each digit is a living, breathing, feeling young person with hopes and desires; a person yearning for love and acceptance. An individual who needs to be a part of something, to be acknowledged for the special being they are. Each and every one of them.
Imagine, if you will, being a child or adolescent. A couple of strange adults show up at your home unexpectedly and take you away from what you know to be home; away from your toys, your friends, your brothers and sisters. You are taken to a police station, or maybe an office building, or to a different home with new people.
Often, the home you are taken to turns out to be less than satisfactory, so even though you are starting to get used to your new situation, to be less frightened, to cry less over what you have lost, it happens again. Once more you are taken away.
Bear in mind that foster children are no different from children who aren’t in foster care: they are learning and growing, like to play and hang out with friends their age, and need the love and stability that a permanent home provides.
This wrenching move may happen to you seven times before you are 18. Seven times you leave the room, the belongings, the people, the friends, the schools, the neighborhood you have started to call your own. There is no loving parent there with you, to talk to you about the move that is about to happen, to create the expectation and excitement about a new adventure, to help you work through the emotions about having to leave everything, again.
Traumatic are the lives of the vast majority of young people in foster care. I am not referring to the lucky ones who have a loving family member to take them in, or those who quickly get adopted. I’m referring to the 85 percent (yes, another statistic), who are beaten, abused, abandoned, or ignored, and carry those internal scars for the rest of their lives.
Yet, many turn their lives around, particularly when someone steps in to help. This does not happen easily or without struggle. A few success stories include Jimmy Wayne, who lived in various homes as a child and became a successful country music singer; Regina Louise, who was moved 30 times and is now a successful author and motivational speaker; and Michael Oher, whose many moves meant he attended 11 different schools in nine years, then became an All-America tackle for the University of Mississippi.
If young adults who grew up in the foster care system are lucky, they find one person who is kind to them and who they can count on.
There are some really wonderful nonprofit agencies providing services for these young people. In Pasadena, these include Youth Moving On, a program of Hillsides, Journey House, and 50/50 Leadership, which works with community colleges and local agencies to bring financial literacy programs and mentoring to these young people who must now create a life for themselves. We teach them how to manage their money, make sound financial decisions and build wealth.
Have you been looking for a way to pay it forward, to give back to the community? As a mentor, you could be that one person in a young adult’s life that helps them rise from the ashes of their childhood and become happy and successful.
Pauline Field is the chair person of 50/50 Leadership. Contact her at 5050Leadership.org.