Today, we held our annual holiday party for teens and young adults currently and formerly in foster care. This phenomenal event is sponsored by CNL Bank for more than 100 youth whose smiles and youthful energy belie the challenges they face in their daily lives.
With the support and guidance of their families, teens practice adulthood and begin to make important life decisions on their own. As they approach their 18th birthdays, teens in foster care face an entirely different set of challenges. Worries can range from getting a driver’s license or a cosigner for an auto loan to worries about paying rent or spending the holidays alone. While most teens feel more empowered as they approach adulthood, many foster youth feel more vulnerable and frightened.
Teens in foster care receive formal preparation for the transition to adulthood beginning as early as age 13. They are taught essential skills such as budgeting, employability, housing and transportation. Despite this preparation, teens aging out of foster care remain more vulnerable to crises than their peers living in stable families.
In 2010, more than 80 central Florida youth will exit foster care with no families to support them. This means that 80 central Florida youth will be 25% more likely to be homeless, 43% more likely to have a child before age 20 and 80% more likely to go to jail.
Statistics suggest that 65 of these youth will want to earn a college degree. Only two will earn that degree. More than 50 of them will not pursue any post-secondary education at all. Some of those will never complete high school or a GED. Forty will be unemployed. All will live in poverty, and more than 30 will cost rather than contribute to our society.
Our children are in crisis.
Government is not the answer. Currently, 67% of teens currently and formerly in foster care are eligible for services to prepare them for independent living, but the program receives only six percent of the funding allocated by government for child welfare services. And these funds come with restrictions. To be eligible for long-term financial assistance, teens must attend school full time, demonstrating sufficient progress. The minority of youth who meet these requirements are not those who most need our help.
The answer is here in our community. Through our combined efforts, we can help youth like Josh who at 19 years old spent his entire savings to pay the security deposits for rent and utilities at his new apartment and then lost his job. With no high school diploma or GED on his resume, Josh feared eviction and living on the streets or, worse, with his parents. He believed he would fall prey to his parents’ drug dependency which led to his entry into foster care in the first place.
Young men like Josh need our help to break the cycles of abuse and dependency. We must be the ones they can turn to for help. And we can all do something. Panera Bread of Orlando and Westgate Resorts provide much-needed jobs to foster youth. Many individuals work with us through our collaborations with Florida Mentoring Partnership and Mentoring and Motivating Youth of America to guide and mentor foster youth. City of Life provides critical community advocacy. We can all recruit others to work together on behalf of our youth. And financial support of services to youth like Josh is essential.
More than 100 individuals contributed their own unique skills and talents in large and small ways to make tonight’s holiday party a great success. Imagine what thousands of individuals can do to make every foster child’s life a success. No contribution is too small when the need is so great.