THE FOSTER CARE COMMUNITy
June is National Reunification Month, a month which recognizes the people and efforts around the country that help families stay together. Today we want to introduce you to one of the many parents in our program who is giving children a safe place to call home, and giving biological parents time to make the changes necessary to make their family whole again.
Cassandra is an amazing single mom who has welcomed an incredible 33 children into her home in her 10 years of fostering. “Fostering was always in my heart and on my mind,” Cassandra says, “even before my daughter was born–––way before I even got pregnant, I wanted to foster, possibly adopt. Something was always pulling at my heart whenever I heard the commercials or heard the ad on the radio stations. Agencies used to be at little community events trying to recruit people. I always stopped and was like, ‘I know I'm supposed to be doing this.’ So finally, when my daughter (pictured) was in seventh grade, and it was still heavily on my heart, I thought, ‘This is something I want to do.’ I have the calling, I have the heart, I have the love. So why not?”
Cassandra went into fostering hoping to adopt, but was open to anything. After her first placement’s case moved to reunification after three years, she shared, “I didn't know what to do. You don't know how to walk that walk because no one has taught you. You learn as you go. And so I just made the choice to become as close as I could to her mom. And she would allow it so that I could help her be a better parent and be successful in getting her child back.”
Over the past 10 years and 33 placements, Cassandra has not only continued fostering, but has also continued investing in biological parents.
"There’s no question. I'm not afraid anymore. I understand culture. Everybody's culture is different. Everybody's upbringing is different. And I think I understand more now that sometimes we have to help the parent in order for them to be successful with raising their children. Maybe they need another’s guidance. Maybe they don't know they're doing wrong. Or cannot comprehend what they're doing wrong. Sometimes they just don't understand.”
Over the years, Cassandra has welcomed children for anywhere from a few days to several years, and sometimes as many as six children at one time. However, she has decided that it is time to take a break from fostering for now. “This is actually going to be my last year. I want to take a break––I may come back, but right now I can say that it's a break.” In reference to her current placement, she shared, “I've been praying about it. And I was like, maybe I'm supposed to adopt her. So, I put in to adopt her, so we'll see how this goes. I think I'm getting ready to adopt. That's weird, I've never adopted before. But, she's my very last child and she's been here the longest.”
Did you know that more than 20,000 youth in the United States age out of the foster care system every year – and only about 50% of these youth will graduate high school?
This is just one of the metrics we are closely monitoring in our Dare to Dream program, and we are so proud to say that we currently have a 100% graduation rate for youth in our programs. 🎓🎉
We believe that having an education, as well as a positive role model and mentor who you can talk to, are two keys to success that every youth in care should have – because the opportunity to pursue your hopes and dreams is something that every youth deserves.
Today we would like to introduce you to just four of our youth who have worked incredibly hard to achieve this accomplishment and are now high school graduates! They deserve to be celebrated BIG time!
We are so thankful for the amazing foster parents, Love Box leaders, and Dare to Dream mentors who walked alongside these youth, and cannot wait to watch their journeys unfold.
If you would like to leave an encouraging message for our graduates, comment below!
May is National Foster Care Month. We Care about foster care and are passionate about bringing awareness to the approximately 430,000 children in the foster care system in the United States. This month, we acknowledge our commitment to walking alongside children in foster care to help them reach their fullest potential and we celebrate those who make a meaningful difference in their lives.
We Care are passionate about bringing awareness to this vulnerable and resilient community. So we're partnering with The Shop Forward, for the second year in a row, to spread awareness and encourage as many people as possible to wear and share their We Care shirts! A portion of the proceeds from these shirts will be donated back to National Angels, allowing the Love Box and Dare to Dream programs to further grow and expand across the nation.
GET THE WHOLE FAMILY INVOLVED
In honor of this month, we have created a way that you can get your whole family involved and show your support for the foster care community, right from the safety of your own home. We have put together a “We Care” coloring sheet for you and your kids to decorate together and share your support in just a few simple steps:
Let’s decorate our homes and neighborhood with a little bit of color and cheer and show the foster community that #wecare.
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. We believe that every child deserves to be surrounded by safe and healthy adults in their lives. Many of us have seen articles about the rise in incidents of child abuse since shelter in place or “Safer At Home” orders. The impact of COVID-19 ripples to every person in our society, including the most vulnerable: children. Many parents are working from home while trying to supervise their children’s schooling; some parents have lost their jobs and a reliable source of income. Groceries and basic needs have been difficult to obtain for many. All of these contribute to elevated stress in parents and in turn elevated stress in families. For those who have already been struggling, this extra stress may be the tipping point that results in higher instances of abuse.
For all of the cases that are reported, many will go unreported because children are in their homes without regular contact with teachers, coaches, and medical professionals, some of the most common reporters of suspected child abuse.
You can help support families and children in these hard times. The number one thing you can do right now is stay connected to others. Find intentional ways to keep up your engagement. It will look different than it did previously; thankfully, there are many creative ways to remain in contact and to make room to listen to what others are feeling. There are dozens of apps and websites that make virtual communication a possibility. If you are able to help with some of the practical needs of a family, such as arranging deliveries for food, household supplies, and diapers/wipes, that is another important way to alleviate some of the stress that comes with living during a pandemic. Your presence in their lives matters. We are so thankful for your connection to your family or youth.
If you suspect child abuse, you are obligated to report it. Every adult in Texas is a mandated reporter. Suspected child abuse can be reported by calling 1-800-252-5400. You are the eyes and voice for children who are unsafe and being harmed.
Please click here for a resource for recognizing signs and symptoms of abuse and be part of the prevention.
“The consistent, enduring presence of a caring adult in a young person’s life can be the difference between staying in school or dropping out, making healthy decisions or engaging in risky behaviors, and realizing one’s potential or failing to achieve one’s dreams.” (Bruce & Bridgeland, 2014)
The absence of parental guidance and emotional support hinders the ability for any youth to flourish in the world––this is especially true for those growing up in foster care. Statistics show that only about 50% of those who age out of care will obtain a high school diploma, and 97% of children in foster care will not graduate from college, despite the fact that as wards of the state, they receive a full-ride to any state school of their choice.
Youth who are out of the foster care system are often expected to be as self-sufficient as their peers not in foster care, who still have parental support and guidance. This lack of support and resources combined with the multiple traumas these youth have experienced, affects their success and well being in life upon aging out. As a result of having to overcome a childhood of abuse and neglect, removal from their caregivers, unstable living arrangements as well as multiple homes, and weak support systems, youth who age out of care are expected to enter young adulthood with no solid foundation upon which they can build their futures.
The heart of our Dare to Dream program is to walk alongside youth as they navigate through life's challenges. The youth in our program need the wisdom, advice, encouragement, and community that mentors can provide. Mentors meet practical and emotional needs as well as provide guidance through developmental milestones. The goal is for youth to be engaged and to feel supported and equipped to navigate life. Mentoring is much more than a push in the right direction, or a voice to listen to – it is a trusted relationship, support system, and guidance leading towards a path of personal growth and positive youth development. The outcomes in a young adult's life are molded by individuals who believe in their dreams and aspirations––and an encouraging and supportive mentor can help ensure that youth achieve these goals.
We tell mentors that the simple act of telling their youth, “I believe in you.”, “You are special.”, “You are going to do great things.”, can change their path completely.
“Virtually every aspect of human development is fundamentally shaped by interpersonal relationships. So it stands to reason that when close and caring relationships are placed at the center of a youth intervention, as is the case in mentoring programs, the conditions for healthy development are ripe.” – Dr. Jean Rhodes, Director, MENTOR/The University of Massachusetts Boston Center for Evidence-Based Mentoring
The milestones within the Dare to Dream program are intended to encourage and guide youth towards a bright, strong future. Milestones such as building healthy relationships, post-graduate planning, creating healthy habits, and obtaining a driver's license are some of the mentoring priorities our program offers, which allow youth in the foster care system to thrive and succeed.
To learn more about the experience of youth in foster care, watch Tyler’s video below.
Bruce, M., & Bridgeland, J. (2014). The Mentoring Effect: Young People’s Perspectives on the Outcomes and Availability of Mentoring. Civic Enterprises in association with Hart Research Associates.
Unrau, Y. A., Font, S. A., & Rawls, G. (2012). Readiness for college engagement among students who have aged out of foster care. Children and Youth Services Review, 34, 76-83. doi:10.1016/j.childyouth.2011.09.002
Courtney, E. M., Dworsky, A., Brown, A., Cary, C., Love, K., & Vorhies, V. (2011). Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth: Outcomes at age 26. Chicago, IL: Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.