Today, I had the opportunity to attend a meeting addressing housing and homelessness issues for foster children and youth. Hosted by the National Foster Care Coalition (NFCC), this meeting brought together advocates, policymakers, government officials, and other interested parties in addressing the issue of foster children.
According to the NFCC, there are nearly half a million children and youth in foster care – and of those, over 26,000 age out of the foster care program without ever having joined a permanent family. Studies have demonstrated that these youth – who never experience the benefits of permanent housing and support – often are more likely to experience negative outcomes, including poverty, homelessness, incarceration, as well as mental and physical illness. They often never learn the life and educational skills necessary to live successful, independent lives.
Luckily, there are actions that we can take to help these foster care children, and increase the odds that they will become productive, active members of society. The NFCC presented a housing policy platform for foster care children, which include the following (these are just a selection among a longer list):
- Increase the legal and financial incentive to providing foster placement prevention services, including housing.
- Require federally-mandated child welfare planning/plans to integrate housing goals.
- Provide federal incentives for states to extend foster care [services] until 21, if needed.
- Change TANF to support minor parents in their efforts to find housing for themselves and their children.
As an outsider on the issue, it was interesting to hear the perspectives of seasoned veterans who have long been protecting the interest of the most vulnerable. I learned today that it’s tough to find willing foster parents nowadays, and even tougher to find foster parents for older children. It had never occurred to me that in these rough times, that sector would be affected as well.
Experts also discussed the challenges in serving youth who were already parents, and the added services and responsibility that are required in such a delicate situation, and in finding solutions for homeless students pursuing secondary education. What can we – as a interdependent community – do to support those students who are actively trying to better their lives but struggling without the skills and/or resources to acquire housing?
And then, there was the entire issue of foster care itself. I was – as it turns out – uninformed about the specifics of the concept. Foster care is intended to be a temporary solution, but on average, children remain in foster care for more than two years. During that time, children average three different placements – moves that are often disruptive to the child’s development.
Find out more about youth homelessness on our website, and please visit the National Foster Care Coalition’s website for more information about their national housing policy platform and the coalition.