By Dawn Onley
When I first heard the term “age out,” I was sitting in a foster care training class and the teacher was explaining that many children will reach the legal age of 18 without getting adopted, so they “age out” of the system and have to either find a home of their own or move into a group home. The thought that a child could grow up and be shuffled in and out of different foster homes, without ever finding permanency with their biological family or in an adoptive home, made me unbelievably sad.
The teacher went on talking but my heart was done for the evening. I was crushed. I thought about these kids throughout the night and into the next morning. I still think about them often. It is such a tough thing to accept – that there are kids who spend most of their childhoods in foster care, in a temporary scenario that was never designed to be anything but temporary, who will never know what it’s like to grow up in a forever home, in a loving family environment.
It’s so unfair.
The reason these kids languish in foster care is because the older a child gets, the less people want to take a chance on him or her. Everyone wants a baby or a toddler. Parents will try to get their acts together to get their babies back. But once a child reaches a certain age, sometimes as young as six or seven, or part of a sibling group, it becomes tougher and tougher to place them.
In all fairness, many of the older kids (particularly teenagers) have seen a lot and have been through a lot, and they carry those experiences with them. My teacher went over some of the scenarios potential foster parents of older kids might encounter (children who suffered abuse, runaways, thieves, truants, children who may have mental or physical illnesses, etc.) and judging by the reactions and faces of those in the class with me, no one was exactly eager to foster an older kid.
But who wouldn’t come with some baggage considering the things many of them have been through? Also, which one of us doesn’t have baggage?
Many well-meaning family and friends cautioned me against fostering an older kid. “They’re a lot of trouble,” they said. “You don’t want that kind of headache.” For those who claim to believe in God, it made me wonder how God would feel about such an assessment. Whether God would be pleased. The God I love calls us to meet the needs of orphans. He doesn’t specify an age. I kept thinking about “for whatever you do to the least of these…”
May is National Foster Care Month. There are more than 400,000 children in foster care throughout our nation — most of these kids are elementary school aged or older. Please consider how you might help support a child in some capacity or another – by mentoring, making a donation to a foster care agency, or becoming a foster or adoptive parent.
President Obama issued a proclamation, which read in part: “The success of our country tomorrow depends on the well-being of our children today. As a Nation, we have a duty to empower each child so they have the same sense of promise and possibility as any other young person – no matter who they are, where they come from, or what their circumstances are.”
The proclamation goes on to say: “And as a country, let us embrace the spirit that every child matters and continue working to provide all of our daughters and sons with an equal chance to lead productive and fulfilling lives, limited by nothing but the power of their imaginations and the scope of their dreams.”
Yes, let us champion foster kids of all ages. Let us all be a part of the solution.