Most of us finish high school with the support of our relatives, and we enter the adult world knowing our families will provide advice, encouragement, hot meals and perhaps even a home until we can make our own way in the world.
It's not like that for foster children. They "age out of the system" as teenagers and enter the adult world alone.
A recently completed University of Chicago study tracke, a large group of foster children from the time they were 18 and still in foster care until they were in their mid-twenties. The findings at the end of the six-year study were too troubling to ignore: Only 7% of the young women and 5% of the young men had gone beyond a high school education to receive an associate's degree. Fewer than half had jobs, and most of those earned less than a living wage -- many as little as $8,000 per year.
Nearly 40% had been homeless or "couch surfed" since leaving foster care. Overall, they were less educated, more likely to be in jail, more likely to be homeless, and less likely to be employed than their peers who entered adulthood as part of a permanent family.
In order to change that future for foster children in the Pittsburgh region, CASA
(Court Appointed Special Advocates of Allegheny County) and the Department of Human Services organized an informational rally on May 11, which drew attention to the Forgotten Child
The turnout was strong, despite heavy rains, says Daren Ellerbee, outreach coordinator at CASA. Attendees marched to the rally site carrying life-sized, cardboard cut-outs of foster children. The rally was timed to coincide with National Foster Care Awareness Month.
Beyond raising awareness of the enormous challenges facing foster children, the rally also drew attention to the opportunities Pittsburghers have to help make a difference
. "You could do something minimal or you could do something that takes lot of time," Ellerbee says.
"We get a lot of people who are interested in foster care, but for whatever reason they're not able to make that commitment." Instead of taking a child into their home, they volunteer as mentors. One program matches mentors with foster teens who are nearing college age.
"It's a the type of connection we take for granted," Ellerbee says, but it can be life-changing for a young adult without parents.
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Writer: Melissa Rayworth
Source: Daren Ellerbee, CASA
Image courtesy of CASA