Too many times when it comes to African-American youth we only focus on the negative. There’s no shortage of warnings about the dire future ahead for Black youth if there isn’t an awakening to change course.
Sometimes when we look so hard at the negatives the positives slip right by. We get a distorted view of our youth that doesn’t fully account for what they are doing right or show where the systems in place to serve them are actually working.
Case in point would be African-American foster youth.
May is National Foster Care Month making it an ideal time to raise this point. African-American foster youth face the same hurdles contributing to the disparities we see between Black achievement and that of other ethnic groups. Many would argue foster youth have it tougher.
African-Americans make up nearly a third of youth in foster care, far outpacing their overall share of the population. Foster youth are more likely to be unemployed or graduate from high school, generally setting the stage for incarceration later in life. In my home state of California, 70 percent of inmates are former foster care youth with many of those faces being Black.
Read any metro news section in an inner city and you are likely to find countless stories of the foster care system not working. To have the headlines tell it, this is a hopeless problem for which nothing can be done to better care for our children and make the system more efficient.
A few days of reading the news and you’d never believe the rate of children entering foster care actually shrank dramatically over the past decade with the greatest declines coming from African-American foster youth.
Between 2002 and 2011 the number of African-American foster youth declined by more than 40 percent compared with more modest declines of 10 to 18 percent across other ethnic groups. Many factors contribute to the decline. For example, the system has gotten better at finding African-American youth homes and keeping families together which can contribute to a reduction in the numbers of children in care.
Though encouraging these numbers are not to suggest that our work is done. They simply offer light at the end of a tunnel that many would have us believe is too difficult to travel. Now is not the time to let up.
Federal finance reform is needed so that child welfare agencies are given more flexibility in using federal funding to address the challenges they face. This would enable the system to do more with what it has while promoting best practices so that the reductions we have seen among African-Americans in foster care are more evenly distributed across all 50 states.
Foster youth also need to know that there is a community of helping hands ready to assist them along the way. The foster care system is only as good as the people who choose to be a part of it whether they are social workers, mentors or foster parents.
We can all play a role in turning the tide against a narrative that says all is lost when it comes to African-American foster youth. As Americans who overcame slavery and segregation we know better than most that we define our own destinies in the United States of America.
Let’s make sure we care for our foster youth along the way.
Congresswoman Karen Bass is Founder and Co-Chair of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth in the U.S. House of Representatives and serves as Whip of the Congressional Black Caucus for the 113th Congress.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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