Looking Ahead After the Foster Youth Summit
The foster care system aims to safely reunify children with their parents or secure another permanent home. Too often this goal is not achieved. Instead, many children spend years in foster homes or group homes, often moving multiple times. These children are at increased risk for a variety of emotional, physical, behavioral, and academic problems, making it less likely that they will graduate from high school and go on to college or career training. Studies show time and again that education beyond high school makes it less likely that people will live in poverty. Unfortunately, too many foster youth in our region struggle just to graduate from high school and therefore find themselves unemployed and homeless within a year after they age out of the foster care system.
So what will it take to ensure that more foster youth age out of the system prepared to enter adulthood? United Way California Capital Region, in partnership with local universities and colleges, nonprofit organizations, and community, brought together key stakeholders at the first ever Foster Youth Summit to take up the question. The summit, which actively engaged foster youth, featured a deep dive into community-level data on foster youth in the region, a panel of foster youth who spoke about the real-world implications of the data, and a variety of speakers highlighting the resources available in our community. During the summit, attendees identified opportunities with two specific goals in mind: to increase the number of foster youth who graduate from high school and increase the percentage who go on to complete post-secondary education. Summit participants identified three key issues that must be addressed in order to achieve those goals: permanency (permanent relationships that last into adulthood), financial support (which includes housing), and trauma-informed care.
In the coming months, United Way, summit participants, and others, will turn ideas for how to address those issues into action. None of this can do this work alone. It will take not only financial resources, but also public–private partnerships and a prioritization of the needs of foster youth among public-policymakers across the political spectrum. Together, we can open doors to opportunity for foster youth to thrive.