THE BLOG
06/20/2008 04:18 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

An Elegant Solution: Act III: Interrupting Generations of Poverty, Abuse and Neglect with Education

"BABY DIES IN FOSTER CARE", screams another tragic headline. Another instance of loss -- preventable, lamentable loss. A head will roll, probably that of a low level social worker, ill equipped to handle the overwhelming caseload. Calls for systemic change will result, yet none will occur. And as always the conversation will be too limited, blind to the fact that real substantive change is just there within our grasp.

Education, a simple concept, yet difficult to execute for foster youth. "Educate to elevate," a phrase forgotten from cheap t-shirts in the 1990s. We have but fifty percent of foster youth graduating high school. Too often we focus on the negative -- the glass half empty. Let us examine the resilient graduating fifty percent of the population as part of what I call a strategy of cross generational prevention.

Prevention across generations means empowering this generation in care in such a fashion that prevents and interrupts the ceaseless brutal cycle of systems that perpetuate other systems. Starting in care, progressing to homelessness, incarceration, abusive relationships, unplanned parenthood, the cycle perpetuates and reinforces the perception of the foster care system as intractable as the mortgage crisis or exiting Iraq. But we know the solution in our middle class America, education. Education. EDUCATION.

In California, and in America, we are blessed with a plethora of affordable open admission community colleges. Dotted across the landscape, these work engines of the economy educate over 78% of Californians with a fraction of the resources dedicated to our other venerable four year siblings. These treasures should be leveraged to assist in the empowerment effort for foster youth.

Fifty percent of foster youth are graduating high school, let's call them college bound Group A. It is this population that we must assist so that they can stand up, with open eyes and hope as they strive to touch the stars that they will be supported. With tuition waivers, and a book scholarship these resilient youth can achieve.

In the last two years of high school, as youth prepare for emancipation and complete independence at 18, let us take the occasion to pull this fifty percent of foster youth out of high school and dual enroll them into a local community college. Upon completion, we have a person not just with a high school diploma, but with an AA or a vocational skill taught at these institutions. Or perhaps a youth can be made ready to transfer to a four year institution.

Too often former foster youth (emancipated youth) that manage to enroll in higher education desert their AA degree program because of housing, health care or food crises. While still in care as proposed herein, this fifty percent college bound Group A, have housing health care and food. Let them eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge. Tuition, at California community colleges are waived for the poor. Housing and health care accounted for by their continued placement in care. And if books or supplies are unfordable, perhaps we as a society can find the wherewithal to subsidize the $300 per semester these youth would need to cover those expenses. After all, the population in question in California numbers somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,000 - 3,000; for a total cost of $900,000 for 3,000 youth to enroll.

It's our choice. We can continue to think about prevention in the next day, or week as we satisfy the fires of manifest immediate needs. Or we can think about prevention across generations of poverty.

I found salvation from a life of homelessness, abuse, and hunger in the hallowed halls of various institutions of education. Begging, borrowing, stealing, I dealt with society's benign neglect. In ignorance I stumbled through FASFA, SATs, applications and financial statements. Close your eyes, this view is the perspective of foster youth as they set out to achieve. Some 50% are ready; let's help them cross the threshold as we begin to see the glass half full.