What if I told you I don't care about autism? My kids are not autistic and neither am I for that matter. In fact, none of my nieces and nephews are autistic and I'm pretty sure none of my close friends have kids on the spectrum either. My children have already been vaccinated and they are fine. So I don't care how much research is needed. I don't really care if the education system is fair for kids I don't even know. I don't care if kids with autism are given the same great childhood experiences as other kids. I just don't really care about autism.
Have I offended you yet? Have you already started crafting a nasty comment to post below? Great! Because it's ridiculous that a well-educated, compassionate, mother of two would write something so heartless and naive.
Of course I care about autism. Of course I care about children that deserve the same rights, privileges, treatment, research and access as my own children. Of course I don't want to see any child marginalized or made invisible. Of course I want a system in place that ensures that children whose lives are impacted by something they had no hand in causing are well cared for. Of course I want these children to have a voice.
So...what about kids in foster care? As a foster-adoptive parent and an advocate for kids who suffer in this broken system, I'm left wondering why there is not constant and massive outrage for what is happening to kids in foster care. I wonder... is it because most of us don't have children in foster care? Is it because most of us won't ever see our kids in foster care? Is it because many of us don't know anyone in foster care? Is it simply because most of us just don't know that much about the foster care system and are not sure what to do? If it's the latter, I think I can help.
According to the Kids Count Data Center, a Project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, over 397,000 children were in foster care in 2012. This means these children have been placed under the care of the state because they were unsafe in their homes. While the numbers are certainly dropping, down from about 459,000 just four years ago, we are still dealing with a crisis that isn't being fully addressed.
Over 23,000 kids age out of foster care every year without being reunified with their families or adopted. In a very recent Huffington Post blog, Rita Soronen of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, talks more about what these children will face -- dramatically elevated instances of homelessness, incarceration and drug abuse to name a few.
This cannot continue. All children deserve to be safe and protected. Every child deserves to have the same education, opportunities and access to services. This isn't happening with children in our nation's foster care system and there isn't enough noise coming from the masses on how we can change this.
So what can we do? I don't just want to tell you what's wrong and walk away. I am writing this to tell you about a problem and offer some tangible ways to do something about it.
May is National Foster Care Awareness Month so this is a perfect time to start getting involved or to do more if you already are. I don't expect every person who reads this to suddenly take on this issue and make it their life's mission to change the foster care system. And I certainly don't expect everyone to run out and become a foster parent or an adoptive parent. But I would love for most people who read this to find one way that they can make a difference, even a seemingly small one.
There are three simple steps I'd like to propose so that each of us can play a role in ensuring that no child ever goes through life thinking they are worthless or that they don't belong anywhere or that they are only good for a stipend check. These steps can help each of you find your place in the foster care system.Step 1. Become Aware. Check out these organizations & websites that provide excellent information about foster care and the issues facing kids in the system and those that age out.
- Children's Rights: www.childrensrights.org
- Kids Count Data Center: http://datacenter.kidscount.org
- FosterMore: www.fostermore.org
- Be a voice for a child in foster care in and out of the courtroom by becoming a Court Appointed Special Advocate: www.casaforchildren.org
- Grant a simple wish for a foster child starting at just10: www.onesimplewish.org
- Mentor or support an older youth online who has aged out of foster care: www.camellianetwork.org
Step 3. Don't give up.
You may hit roadblocks. You may get really fired up after reading this and want to jump on board with an organization or a project that doesn't immediately let you in. Hang in there. Think about the kids. And if you keep hitting road blocks, email me. I've been known to knock them down.
(NOTE: In full disclosure I am the Founder of One Simple Wish, one of the charities listed above.)