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Melinda Burris works for the Galax Department of Social Services
National Foster Care Month, just celebrated in May, provides an opportunity to shine a light on the experiences of the more than 400,000 children and youth in the foster care system, over 4,500 in Virginia alone.
The campaign raises awareness about the urgent needs of these young people and encourages citizens from every walk of life to get involved as foster or adoptive parents, volunteers, mentors, employers or other ways.
No matter their age, children in foster care need a meaningful connection to at least one caring adult who becomes a supportive and lasting presence in their lives.
Without families or stable relationships, too many of these children and teens will end up facing life’s challenges all alone.
Research shows that young people who age out of foster care are far more likely than their peers in the general population to endure homelessness, poverty, compromised mental and physical health, insufficient education, unemployment, incarceration and early pregnancy and parenthood.
Older youth in particular are in most urgent need of attention. Nearly half of the young people in foster care are older than age 10.
For many years, the number of young people aging out of foster care has increased. That number currently is about 30,000 each year. These young people exit foster care without the appropriate family connections, resources, mentorship, employment, skills or options they need to live independently. These children and youth need and deserve caring adults who love and support them.
Although working with children and youth in foster care can be challenging it is also extremely rewarding, as one foster mom relates: “My advice for anyone thinking about or interested in becoming a foster parent is to treat each child as if that child was your own.
“Children need to know that they belong, that they are wanted so be there for them no matter what.
“Give it time, because there are going to be challenges. But, the good far outweighs any bad. I would not trade my experience as a foster parent for anything.”
No matter who you are or how much time you have to give, you can help create permanent, lifelong connections for these children and youth by making a financial contribution, tutoring a child in foster care, sending a care package, helping a youth in foster care find a job, mentoring a young person or becoming a foster parent.