With over 400,000 children in the foster care system today it's often difficult for children over thirteen to get out of the system and into a "forever" home. Gloriously, some do succeed.
With that in mind, I'd like to introduce the story of Mary Lee who beat those odds and how her story can help us think about think differently about children in foster care.
It's all about potential. The potential of foster youth. The potential for a successful system.
At age 12 Mary entered the foster care system, and she threw herself into school - the one place that had always been a safe haven for her. As she got older, Mary struggled to find a balance between pursuing a higher education and finding a forever family. She was met with negative feedback, but Mary was eager to accomplish both her dreams. She had potential and nothing was going to stand in her way!
Mary was adopted one week before her 18th birthday and received a full ride to college. After years of being her own advocate within the system Mary was invited to share her story with lawmakers on Capitol Hill. It helped to inspire the Fostering Adoption to Further Student Achievement Act (nicknamed the "Mary Lee Act"). The law makes it possible for teens in foster care to be adopted without losing access to college financial aid. Under this law, youth who are adopted from foster care at any point after their 13th birthday do not have to include their parents' income in the calculations for determining their need for financial aid. This act ensures that foster youth adopted from state custody will not have to choose between being adopted by a forever family and pursuing higher education, the way Mary did.
Mary continues be an inspiration to foster children today. She went on to law school and now works for the national nonprofit, Youth Villages, where she heads the Transitional Living Program, which helps young adults aging out of the foster care and juvenile justice systems develop the life skills necessary to become responsible citizens.
Mary's story is currently being featured in a PSA put out by the organization FosterMore that shines a light on the amazing potential of kids and families in the foster care system, and empowers all foster kids to reach their dreams through education. FosterMore encourages all of us to play a part in ensuring that foster youth receive the support, nurturing, and guidance they need to succeed in life.
Not all stories out of the foster care system are tragic. It's people like Mary who give us hope, help guide us, and ask make us look inward to ask... What is my potential?