by Rachel Kuhr
Back in May of this year, my hard drive at work crashed. Foolishly, I had saved things on it that I thought I would always have access to-reports I had written, my last foster care budget that I sent to the state, a program description in progress, pictures from prior events. After waiting many months to get these important things back, I was told they were gone forever, lost to the great electronic netherworlds. I am still figuring out what all I lost. Today, I realized it included every article I have written for Community Review about adoption and foster care since I came to JFS in 2003 – sixteen years’ worth. Should have saved to the cloud.
I tell you my sad story both as a cautionary tale and as a way to help you put yourself into the shoes of a child in foster care. Like me, one day they had all their toys and clothes and pictures and memories and the next, they were living with a new family and had nothing that was familiar. Things may not have been great at home. In fact, they would have been far from perfect, but still, it was familiar and somewhere in the mess that was their home life, they had a toy or a pillow or a picture that helped them feel a little better at moment.
Picture Andy, now 9, who, when the caseworker came to his home to get him for his third stay in foster care, said, “let me get my garbage bag, I was figuring you were coming soon.” Picture Amy, 3, whose heroin-addicted parents did not teach her to talk or feed herself or change her diapers – all things that her foster parents must now teach her. Picture Dory, who ran from six different foster homes and group homes because getting comfortable with people made her so scared; she had been let down so many times before. Dory would run with her family photo album shoved into her backpack to protect the one thing she could not bear to lose. It was her story to save.
Each of these children needs a forever home. They need someone to help them rebuild their childhood. They need parents who don’t give up and who will make sure they don’t have to pack their things into a garbage bag and move along. Some children need a place until their mom gets stable on her medication or works in therapy, and they can go home. Some need a waystation to going to live with Grandma in South Carolina, where there are people who can tell them stories about their mom, who unfortunately died from an overdose. But many more need a place to call their own forever.
Now for the stats. There are about 14,000 children in foster care in Pennsylvania alone in 2018, half over age thirteen. Every year, more than 1,000 age out of foster care, meaning they are too old to stay in a home or they leave on their own at 18. The statistics for these youth, who have no stable permanent resource, are devastating – no jobs, lack of stable housing, many without a high school education. They make up a large portion of the homeless youth population. Remember, these children were not in the foster care system because of their own issues. We have got to do better. And I hope you can help.
I know that many of you are not in a position to help these children. You are retired and helping with the grandchildren and traveling a lot. You have small children at home, a houseful. You are not sure you want this responsibility. But you may know someone whose children are getting older, and they love being a parent and they are not quite done guiding teens into adulthood. You may have a friend, a nurse, who loves children and now that she is home full-time with her own kids, may have room for one more child with medical needs that match her skills. Or maybe, you feel you can help by being a respite resource for other families who need a break, a mentor or a tutor for the children in their foster home. Or just maybe, you can offer to work with just one family and one child to support their journey through the system. Perhaps, this year, you’ll be able to say, “yes, I can help these families to have an easier time.” All of you are welcome in the JFS AdoptionLinks program.
For more information about our foster care and adoption program or to learn of other ways you can be supportive to our families, please call Rachel or Crystal at 717-233-1681.
This article originally appeared in the 11/8/19 edition of Community Review.