Lately the news media here in central Texas has been focusing on the issue of kids aging out of foster care. One statistic is that while foster (or former foster) children in Texas get a free college education in any state school, only 3% take advantage of that opportunity. More pressing, one out of 4 kids who age out of foster care are homeless within one year. That is a shocking statistic.
The news media foists the blame squarely on Child Protective Services or uncaring foster parents. Reporters blame the state for not making sure these kids get access to transitional programs and ultimately succeed. It is a little less straightforward than that. Most of these reports are failing to look at the true issue: complex family situations and complicated teenagers.
I live with two teenagers of my own. They are complicated. They are loving one minute and defiant the next. They long to fit in and they want to be unique. They are ever changing.
Compound all these teenage complications by removing a child from his family of origin and thrusting him into a completely foreign environment. In this new home, all the “normal” ways of sleeping, eating, and especially relating to others are different and strange. He is in a new school where he has to find a new group of friends. His new teachers, unfamiliar with all the issues he is facing, may not give him the same allowances as in his old school. His grades may fall. He may drop out. Perhaps he was not even attending school regularly prior to his placement. In any case, his teenage mind is a whirl.
Do I think it is okay for 25% of teens aging out to wind up homeless in a year? Absolutely not. I think we — the entire community, the state, foster parents — must move heaven and earth to ensure that children aging out of foster care are informed about and provided every resource to pave the way to success. I also think we have to be realistic. For some kids, the torment and turmoil of their adolescent lives is going to take a heavy toll and even a perfect state system or saint of a foster parent will not be able to change that. I think we have to do all we can for every kid and just know — just like in our nuclear families — sometimes, it is not going to be enough.