Commentary: We Must Care for Black Foster Youth

Raising awareness about adoption and foster care.

Posted: 05/31/2013 08:00 AM EDT

During National Foster Care Month, we must remember that not every child goes to sleep at night in a permanent home. And unfortunately, this crisis disproportionately impacts the African-American community. 

There are approximately 400,000 children living today in the foster care system, of which about 100,000 are in need of an adoptive family. African-Americans make up 28 percent of the foster care population despite making up only 14 percent of the country’s population. This percentage is declining over the last decade, but is still too high.

The disparity is magnified in certain states. For example, in Maryland, Black children represent 32 percent of the child population but 65 percent of the foster care population.

Every year, 20,000 children emancipate from foster care, of which only 2 percent go on to complete college. Exiting foster care at 18 leaves the young black man at high risk for gang, drug and alcohol involvement which predisposes them to a high risk of homelessness, mental illness and prison within five years of leaving foster care. Young women are easy prey for sex trafficking, prostitution and early unplanned pregnancies.

These numbers aren’t just statistics. They represent real human stories that are living in your backyard.

So what can be done?

Although African-American children have lower rates of adoption from the foster care system than those of other ethnicities, providing a safe permanent home should be the focus of any comprehensive strategy that addresses this foster care crisis. There is absolutely no substitute for permanency, whether with a biological family or an adoptive one.

The process of adoption and foster care seems daunting at first glance. You may have heard that adopting costs thousands of dollars — but in reality, adopting from the foster care system can cost nothing at all. Adoption, foster care nonprofit agencies and local social services offices all around the nation regularly hold free information sessions on the fostering and foster-to-adopt process. If you have any interest in this at all, attend one of the sessions to learn more.

Mentoring kids transitioning from high school to independent living is also desperately needed. Adoption and foster care is not for everyone, but we must all play a role in caring and advocating for those vulnerable children who have no voice, whether it be through mentoring, helping a biological parent reform their lives and reunite with their child, providing support to foster parents or adoptive parents, volunteering with an organization that serves foster youth or mobilizing your place of worship to act.

Congresswoman Karen Bass has provided a model for us all to follow. As the co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth in the U.S. House of Representatives, she frequently raises awareness about this issue every chance she gets.

Advocating politically for reform of the foster care system is also needed. States should more aggressively embrace reforms that support permanency. The system should encourage foster teens towards adoption, rather than remaining in the system for monetary reasons or free tuition. State judicial systems should not force children to remain in “limbo” for years in the foster system with the hope of parental reunification that isn’t materializing or progressing.

Meeting this challenge is not insurmountable. This crisis has slightly improved over the last decade, but we must not let up now. Our community has faced trials and overcome tribulations before, and this problem is no different. 

Glorya Taylor Jordan, RN BSN CCRN, is an adoptive parent from the foster care system and a mother of four.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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