By Vanessa Jones
There are more than 500,000 children living in foster care at any given time. For 12 years I was one of these children.
When I was 8 years old, I was removed from my biological family due to domestic violence and alcohol abuse. Although I was never adopted, I was placed with a foster mom in Austin who wholeheartedly embraced me. Her home became my permanent home and the place I go back to today. She still celebrates my birthday every year and is even helping me pay for my upcoming wedding. She truly is my family.
I was one of the lucky ones. Although foster care was intended to be a temporary place for children to stay when they experience abuse and neglect and can no longer safely live with their families, most children entering foster care linger in the system for months, if not years.
Separated from friends and family and bounced around foster homes and schools, these children live in a constant state of uncertainty. On average, children in foster care will spend at least two birthdays in the system. Sometimes these birthdays are not celebrated, or even acknowledged.
Because I was fortunate to live in a safe, loving, and secure home, I had the support and confidence to pursue scholarships for college and graduate school.
I decided to earn my master’s degree in social work because I want to give back to a system that has worked in my favor. Today I serve as a Program Manager for Youth Services at the Child Welfare League of America in Washington, D.C. I work to make the opportunities I had growing up a reality for more foster youth.
As a former foster youth, I am also active in coalitions of current and former foster youth. I am currently part of “Kids Are Waiting,” a Pew Charitable Trusts’ project urging Congress to change the way it funds foster care.
Currently, most federal dollars dedicated for child protection can only be used when children are removed from their homes and placed in the foster care system.
This means that right now, some children are entering foster care when preventive services (such as child care or mental health services) may have kept them safely at home with their families. Many other children are waiting too long to return home or to find permanent, loving families. Far too often, these children never find a family they can call home.
Congress needs to provide flexible funding so that states can have more resources to prevent abuse and create and support permanent families for children in care.
Unless Congress changes the federal financing system, others won’t be as lucky as me.
Jones, a foster child who grew up in Austin is the program manager of youth services for the Child Welfare League of America. May is National Foster Care Month, a time to focus on the children who are in foster care waiting for permanent homes.