By now, the graduation parties are over and reality is setting in for many of the youth in foster care. Most will age out of the system and face a world of unknowns. Some go on to college, some return to their biological families and some become homeless.
On June 12, we celebrated the graduation of 48 high school students who had been in foster care. Through the generosity of the US Bank/Haile Foundation, country music star and foster care advocate- Jimmy Wayne, shared his inspirational story about being raised without his biological family. In 2010, Wayne walked across America to raise awareness about child abuse and the number of young people who age out of the foster care system without any support. In 2012, his testimony convinced Tennessee legislators to extend funding for foster children aging out of the system at 18 years until age 22.
Here in Ohio, we need similar support both before and after a child turns 18. Aside from homelessness, youth who age out of the system also face higher rates of incarceration, unemployment, and financial instability.
We have some support in place. We have independent living resources, classes and coordinators who match youth with services they need to be self-sufficient. The Higher Education Mentoring Initiative provides a mentor to some foster youth that plan to attend college. The mentor helps students find resources and serves as a source of advice for youth who often do not have another trusted adult in their lives. We also have a Foster Youth Advisory Board that advocates for foster youth both in and out of the system.
Our commitment is unyielding, yet more can be done. We need to increase our support by investing in services that fill the gaps in housing, employment, mental health needs, education and independent living skills. We need more advocates like Jimmy Wayne to share stories and raise awareness. We need more mentors to help children graduate high school and continue on to higher education. We also need a caring and compassionate community that will support these children with understanding as they face the challenges of adulthood. Luckily, I believe we live in such a community.