At the closing awards ceremony at NACAC, my friend Pat O'Brien, founder of You Gotta Believe, gave the keynote address. He said a whole bunch of things that I've heard him say before that I completely agree with. In fact, I think Pat is amazing because he agrees with me on almost every topic. I tend to like people who agre with me. And the topics we disagree about we have discussed at length, but there are only a few.
But he said one thing that I had never heard put just that way before. He was discussing the 26,286 children who aged out of foster care in 2011 ... though he didn't quote the number -- and the others who aged out every year before that at the rate of at least 20,000 a year. If you do the math that was about 72 young adults a day in 2011 who walked away from foster care without a family. Grant it, some of them have committed foster parents who they view as family for the rest of their lives, but many are left to themselves. You've heard this speech from me a million times.
So in Pat's closing keynote, he reminded us that the system -- we in child welfare -- we as a nation -- made these kids a promise when we removed them from their parents care. We told them that we would take care of them. We promised them, in a sense, that life would be better because we came in to "rescue them."
But as he pointed out, there are a number of kids to whom we aren't keeping that promise. We are saying goodbye to them as a system and telling them that they are ready to be on their own when they are 18 or 19 or 21, depending on the state where they live. They walk away and face life alone -- which may or may not be better off than dealing with life in the context of the families we removed them from.
And those years that we were "protecting them" and "giving them a better life?" We've all heard the horror stories. We ourselves have a son who was neglected in his birth home because of a birthmom's drug habit. He wasn't getting enough supervision as a toddler and so he was removed. He wasn't abused though .. .until he entered the system. Seven years and 15 placements later, he now had a history of sexual abuse, physical abuse that was so calculated and deliberate that it almost makes me vomit, and years of emotional abuse. And then the "system" made the decision that it was OK for him to be separated from his younger birth siblings. As a woman I met with yesterday said passionately, "who thinks they have the right to make the decision to separate people from their siblings???" And, because of the situation, no contact was allowed for these then three little boys until they were all eighteen. When he came to us it is no wonder it took years and years for him to heal.
I can hear all the arguments coming back at me as I type. I know that there are exceptions to every generalization, but really, who do we think we are as a child "welfare" system to do this to children? Why is it that we can fail on a daily basis at keeping our promises to them without more of an response from society?
There are some issues that people are bent out of shape about in our country ... the issues come and they go. But to me this is something worthy of national outrage. This is an issue that should be clouding the pages of people's facebooks and being written about in blogs. This should be one thing that everyone can agree needs fixing.
And then, I ask myself, "Where is the church?" How can it be that there are more churches in the Twin Cities than there are waiting children in Minnesota? How can it be that so many counties are searching for foster parents when there are literally thousands of people who call themselves Christians in each of those counties?
OK, I'm getting myself all worked up here. ;-)
My point? Well if you've been reading this blog for long or met me in person, I think you know the point. It's time for us to do something about the 26,286.
We made them a promise.
We need to figure out a way to keep it.