A few years ago, I noticed a small crack in the hallway of my doctor’s office. It was only five or six inches long, but my eyes drifted back to that spot each time I returned for a checkup. Then one day it was gone — likely spackled and painted over by the building maintenance team.
The repair was surface level. It was enough so that most of us will never give the crack another thought. Literally out of sight, out of mind.
Our perception of foster care in the United States reminds me of the painted-over crack. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports there are more than 400,000 children in foster care each year. These are kids ranging in age from babies to teenagers with the average age being 6 and a half.
And while most children spend about one year in foster care, there are some in foster care for much longer — sometimes until they turn 18 and are considered legal adults.
Nationally, more than 20,000 youth age out of foster care every year. They may no longer be part of HHS’s foster care statistics, but that doesn’t mean their struggles are over.
Proverbs 22:6 states, “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” But what happens for those who don’t receive the life lessons they need?
According to a past survey by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, 40% to 50% of foster youth become homeless within 18 months of aging out, while 50% of the homeless population spent time in foster care.
40% to 50% of foster youth become homeless within 18 months of aging out.
These young adults need to know they are not alone just because they turn 18. There are programs and organizations to support them, from finding a job and housing to going to college. Equally important is a need to raise awareness about the struggles of former foster youth so we can show them we care about what happens to them — and that God cares about what happens to them.
Therefore, our team at Buckner International created National Aging Out of Foster Care Awareness Day, a day to shine a light on children about to age out and those who already have aged out.
National Aging Out of Foster Care Awareness Day will be celebrated each year on May 31, the final day of National Foster Care Month. This is only the second year for the awareness day, but we are working with other nonprofits around the country to help it catch on.
“I thought my world was over.” That was how Jasmine, a former foster youth, felt when she was about to age out. Jasmine discovered one of our Buckner transitional programs, which she credits for giving her another chance. But not all kids know about these programs, and not all programs for former foster youth have the necessary funding to help every child in their community.
This is why Jasmine and several other former foster youth are sharing their stories on our website, FosterYouthAgingOutDay.com. They are acting as advocates and helping make sure others don’t have to transition into adulthood alone.
So, what can Christians do?
The first way to help is through prayer. Keep these children and young adults in your hearts and your prayers. After that, become an advocate for National Aging Out of Foster Care Awareness Day. Talk about the day on social media, share posts from aging out services, and let these kids know they are in your prayers. Let them know you see them.
If you feel moved to volunteer or support a nonprofit serving former foster youth, you will find a list of nonprofits sorted geographically on the Aging Out Day website. Or if you know of a nonprofit not yet listed on the website, let them know about it.
Foster care is supposed to be a way to help a child during the most traumatic time of their young life. It should be a bridge to a better, more stable future. Foster care should not sentence a child to a life on the streets or in jail.
When a child ages out of foster care, they must know we are all there to help them become a man or woman who is excited to be a part of our community — and hopefully part of our church.
Albert L. Reyes serves as president and CEO of Buckner International. He is the author of The Jesus Agenda and Hope Now and is a member of the board of trustees of the Christian Alliance for Orphans and the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.
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