May is National Foster Care Month, when we’re reminded that more than 463,000 children in the US live in foster care. While we laud the annual recognition of this important cause, foster children and youth need recognition, support, guidance and love every day of every month.
Growing into a happy, responsible, productive adult presents challenges for everyone, even those raised by loving caregivers in a stable environment. The nearly half a million young people who live in foster care aren’t that lucky—they must navigate the confusing path to adulthood with limited adult supervision, guidance or love, often in unstable living environments.
Children and youth find themselves in foster care after having survived any number of distressing situations at home, including physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, or the inability of a primary caregiver to adequately ‘parent,’—sometimes due to illness or incarceration.
In California, which has the largest foster care population of any state, the number of foster youth has tripled in the last 20 years (Source: AFCARS Report 2009).
Lack of a stable home-life is a common theme for many foster youth. By the time a child enters foster care to the time she leaves the system at age 21, she might have lived in 15 different places—hoping to find somewhere to call home with each and every move.
Once a foster youth ages out of the system, he is often left to navigate the adult world on his own. When he is ready to join the work force, he faces tough odds—unemployment rates for foster youth are as high as 51 percent. And until recently, nearly 65 percent of the 5,000 California foster youth who aged out faced immediate homelessness. They simply did not have family members or friends to rely on, or the resources needed to afford somewhere to live.
Since 1974, Bay Area Youth Center (BAYC), a division of Sunny Hills Services, has been partnering with vulnerable youth, empowering them to successfully transition to living independently as the most self-reliant, confident adults they can be. At the heart of our work is recognizing individuals for their individuality, and using our human relationships to help them create a living roadmap towards knowing themselves. Our youth development approach enlists youth as stakeholders in designing goals that are meaningful and aligned with the youth’s own individual skills, dreams and competencies. We provide mentoring, guidance and course corrections in an environment in which it is safe to make and learn from mistakes.
With the passage of AB12, which extended foster care services to age 21, BAYC was the first agency in California to offer these older foster youth supported, independent living in apartments, with case management, mental health services and life skills training. The apartments are a dream come true and a place to call home for more than 45 young people who live there today. BAYC is proud to be a source of support for these courageous young people as they navigate the waters from youth to successful adulthood.
For more on the astounding work happening at BAYC, please go to baycyouth.org.