Currently, there are over 400,000 kids in the foster care system in the United States. Children and youth enter into the system because they, or their families are in crisis. Often, they have been removed from their parents because they are unsafe, abused, or neglected. These kids are displaced from their homes—and sometimes—even their schools and/or towns. They are often moved from home to home, and live in a state of instability.
According to Casey Family Programs, about 25,000 youth between the ages of 18 and 21 must leave the foster care system each year. Since these youth have lived with instability throughout their childhoods, they are often ill prepared to suddenly live independently. Aging out of foster care without a permanent home is the highest-risk outcome for a foster youth.
- Approximately 25% of former foster youth nationwide reported that they had been homeless within 2 to 4 years of exiting foster care. (National Alliance to End Homelessness).
- Foster youth often approach the transition to adulthood with significant educational deficits:
o They are 14 times more likely not to complete college than the general population.
o They are more than twice as likely not to have a high school diploma or GED as their peers (Chapin Hall Midwest Study).
These statistics are staggering.
The foster care system, in many ways, is failing kids. Kids, who, need and want emotional support, guidance, and love. They are the future of our country. They matter. Their well-being and ability to integrate into society are important. If the system is failing, it’s time that we get involved and directly support these children. If we, as community members, get involved and support organizations that are helping foster children and youth, I know that we can change the course of their lives, for the better.
Here are five awesome organizations that you can donate to, or volunteer at, to make a positive impact in the lives of foster children and youth:
1.) Together We Rise
In 2008, Together We Rise was founded by Danny Mendoza after he discovered that his 9 year-old cousin was living in a car. He wanted to help him, but ran into obstacles because he was under the age of 21. Danny became disheartened after he was denied the ability to help his cousin, and youth like his cousin.
Then, Danny had a vision to create ways to help youth in foster care without becoming a foster parent. Danny’s vision turned reality when he created, Together We Rise, now a nation-wide organization changing the way youth experience foster care.
Together We Rise has multiple, wonderful programs, such as Sweet Cases. Every day, hundreds of kids enter foster care with their belongings in a trash bag. Through Sweet Cases, trash bags are replaced with personalized duffel bags. Donate today and give children in foster care supplies, bicycles, and/or scholarships.
In 1981, Joseph Rivers founded Foster Care to Success (FC2S) under the name “Orphan Foundation of America”. Having spent his entire childhood in a Syracuse, New York orphanage, he knew firsthand how difficult it is to turn 18 and enter the world of adulthood with no caring support system.
He created a small outreach program in a Washington, DC community center basement with a handful of foster care alumni which helped foster teens prepare for the overnight adulthood they would experience after high school graduation, or upon turning 18.
The program started off modestly; Volunteers helped youth meet their immediate needs such as housing, jobs and transportation, before helping them to develop goals beyond basic survival. With four small $500 grants, Rivers created what is now the FC2S scholarship program.
FC2S partners with organizations, foundations, and individuals to deliver scholarships to foster youth across the country. With this funding, hundreds of young people reach their educational goals every year. Learn more about the FC2S scholarship program and donate here.
In 1977, a Seattle juvenile court judge concerned about making drastic decisions with insufficient information came up with the idea of having citizen volunteers speak up for the best interests of abused and neglected children in the courtroom. From that first program has grown a network of nearly 1,000 CASA and guardian ad litem programs that are recruiting, training and supporting volunteers in 49 states and the District of Columbia. Since there are not enough CASA volunteers to represent all of the children in care, judges typically assign CASA volunteers to their most difficult cases.
Volunteers get to know the child by talking with everyone in that child’s life: parents and relatives, foster parents, teachers, medical professionals, attorneys, social workers and others. They use the information they gather to inform judges and others of what the child needs and what will be the best permanent home for them.
You do not have to be a lawyer or a social worker to be a volunteer. They welcome people from all walks of life. They are simply looking for people who care about children and have common sense. As a volunteer, you will be thoroughly trained and well supported by professional staff to help you through each case. Court Appointed Special Advocates are incredibly important and can play a huge role in shaping a child’s life.
Click here to find a CASA program in your area and learn how to become a Court Appointed Special Advocate.
For more than 100 years, Big Brothers Big Sisters has strived to change the lives of children and youth between the ages of 6 and 18, who are facing adversity, many of whom are children in the foster care system. Big Brothers Big Sisters makes meaningful matches between adult volunteers (“Bigs”) and children (“Littles”), in communities across the country.
The mentorship has been shown to help children achieve success in school, avoid risky behaviors, such as getting into fights and trying drugs and alcohol, and helps them improve their self-confidence. I have first hand experience volunteering with this organization and my entire experience was positive and fulfilling. If you’d like to hear more about my experience as a Big Sister, you can read The Power of Mentoring: Getting Kids Out of Gangs and Into Colleges.
Click here to learn more about the program and apply to be a Big!
5.) One Simple Wish
In 2006, Danielle Gletow and her husband Joe became foster parents, and it changed their lives forever. Their journey into foster care began when an 18 month-old little boy nervously entered their home wearing a coat two sizes too big after being removed abruptly from his abusive home. Over the next two years, they learned about the children living in the foster care system, the resources they were going without, the lack of awareness in the general public and the support these children desperately needed and deserved. They knew they had to do more for children in foster care and vowed to commit their lives to doing it. Now, One Simple Wish helps over 20,000 kids every single year.
One Simple Wish grants wishes to children in foster care. Granting a wish to a child in foster care is a really cool way to let foster children know they are cherished and valued. On the website, you can see what wishes children have—sometimes it’s clothing, sometimes it’s a birthday party, or school essentials—there is a huge range of wishes that you can choose from. You can start granting wishes here.
Heather Lei graduated from UC Santa Barbara with a B.A. in English. She is a mentor through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program which aims to help at-risk youth stay in school and attend college. Heather is also one of the producers of, The Greater Than Project, an interview style web series which focuses on stories of greatness—of triumph over challenge. Heather is a passionate storyteller who hopes that through the sharing of stories, we can better understand the world around us and more deeply connect with our humanity.