How much do you know about Natalee Holloway, the hard-partying Alabama teenager who disappeared on Aruba last year?
I’ll bet it’s more than you know about the 19,000 kids in Michigan’s foster care system. Ten thousand of those kids are black, and I’ll bet that you don’t know any of them. I don’t know any personally either.
But here’s what I do know, according to the non-profit agency Michigan’s Children. African-American kids tend to stay in foster care much longer than whites, and for those stuck in foster care, more than half had been shuffled from family to family more than 37 times. What kind of life is that? You tell me. The older any child in foster care is, the less likely it is that they will ever be adopted or and end up with a permanent family.
Here’s a glimpse into the world of those adults who had to stay in foster care till their 18th birthday. Half of them don’t have a high school degree. One out of every four has been homeless. One out of every four boys has spent some time in jail – as has one out of every ten girls. And 70 percent haven’t had a job for a year.
They are the invisible people who fall between the cracks of our society, the people who we never see, never think about. Not, that is, until their hopelessness and despair and poverty boil over in a way that suddenly impacts our lives.
Michigan’s Children was founded fourteen years ago to try and do something about all of this. They came into being to be a voice for the concerns of children and young people who can’t help themselves.
They are not just another big-government group, which sees public spending as the key to all our ills. Sharon Peters, the group’s CEO, regularly argues that the business community has a stake in this too, that they have to be part of the solution.
The hardest part is finding out what that solution should be. Michigan’s Department of Human Services is trying a new program called the Family to Family initiative. The idea is to keep kids who need foster care rooted in their home communities as much as possible.
That means helping other family members or close personal friends to care for them. The state wants to involve social workers, parents and neutral “facilitators” to try and make a home situation work.
Marianne Udow, director of the human services department, is enthusiastic, calling it “a whole new approach to foster care and child welfare.”
Promising that may be. It’s certainly worth a try. Yet there will always be some kids who have no family and whose neighborhoods wouldn’t be safe for the Incredible Hulk in the daytime. And they will need caring and decent and patient foster parents. And there never seem to be enough of those.