The Student Center for Reconciliation and Diversity discussed issues arising from the foster care system
On Wednesday, the Student Center for Reconciliation and Diversity (SCRD) hosted a workshop entitled “The Foster Care System: Identities and Outcomes of Disadvantage,” which discussed the social injustices that take place within the system.
Senior sociology work major Joshua Cantong moderated the event alongside guest presenters Maria Austin, the president of Dawn of Hope, and Tra’von Williams, the founder of It Starts with Friends.
The non-profits aim at cultivating healthy relationships, especially for foster care youth. Dawn of Hope partners with the community to carry out a one week summer camp for kids in the foster care system, with mentoring opportunities. Dawn of Hope also hopes to facilitate a monthly club program for those kids who went to camp.
It Starts with Friends’ mission is to support the homeless and provide them with enough tools and resources to live sustainably.
“It Starts with Friends wants to make people feel noticed and bring them hope,” said Williams.
The night was divided into four key topics: the foundation of foster care, specific identities of disadvantaged foster children, outcomes of disadvantaged foster children and the Christian church’s response.
The audience was split into groups of four to discuss the topic. Some common themes that everyone hoped to take away from the night were to dive deeper into why the foster system is broken, what goes on within the system and how involved the local church is.
Child Welfare Information Gateway defines foster care as “a temporary service provided by States for children who cannot live with their families. Children in foster care may live with relatives or with unrelated foster parents. Foster care can also refer to placement settings such as group homes, residential care facilities, emergency shelters and supervised independent living.”
Those who interact with the foster care system may experience Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE).
“Without intervention, these can lead to physical and psychological problems that can last a lifetime,” Austin said.
This next part of the powerpoint listed the identities of disadvantages, including poverty, racial disparity, immigraition, incarceration, family structures and being LGBTQ+.
The outcomes of disadvantages are aging out of the system, education, employment and homelessness, teen pregnancy and incarceration. Statistics show 80 percent of those in prison have interacted with the foster care system.
According to the National Foster Youth Institute, those who interact with the foster care system are three times more likely to dropout of high school and only three percent will graduate from a four year college.
During this portion of the workshop, Williams shared his personal story of being in the foster care system. Williams had to learn how to survive. He was in the repeated cycle of abuse, addiction, gang culture, jail time, limited schooling and homelessness caused him to barely get through each day.
“I was just that system kid you don’t really know,” Williams said. “When people are crying out for help, we neglect them and then they end up feeling more comfortable on Skid Row.”
Williams began working and has been sober for two years. He started his nonprofit organization because since he once was that kid crying out for help, he wants to do what he can to bring people the relationships he craved growing up.
Williams’ nonprofit, It Starts with Friends, is geared towards building relationships with foster kids and bringing them hope and a sense of normalcy. He explained that those involved with this organization understand what it is like to feel lonely and how a loving relationship with another human being can change their lives.
During the event, they repeated that there is hope through safe, loving and secure relationships. Christians can make a difference by adopting, becoming a foster parent, serving at summer camps for foster children, donating to these nonprofit organizations and becoming more aware of what these children are experiencing.
The church can be an advocate for those in the system.
“[Chrisrians can] advocate for intra/extra government change to expand positive outcomes for foster care youth,” Cantong said.
Austin said the church talks a lot about prison ministry, homelessness, sex trafficking, which are all important, but she made it clear that these are all prevelant and intercede in the lives of those within the foster care system.
Austin concluded by reading James 1:27. The passage reads, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
For more information about Dawn of Hope, visit www.dawnofhopela.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org, and for It Starts with Friends, visit itstartswithfriends.org or email email@example.com.
Update 3-2-2020 at 8:45 p.m.
Corrections were made to Joshua Cantong’s major from social work to sociology; and to the attribution of two quotes.
The quote, “Without intervention, these can lead to physical and psychological problems that can last a lifetime,” was originally attributed to Cantong, but was actually stated by Maria Austin.
The quote, “[Chrisrians can] advocate for intra/extra government change to expand positive outcomes for foster care youth,” was originally attributed to Austin but was said by Cantong.
The statement, “Dawn of Hope also hopes to facilitate a monthly club program for those kids who went to camp,” was also added.