Washington, DC - Many current and former foster youth say that celebrating holidays without a permanent family is a tremendous challenge. Today, former foster youth from across the country joined policy makers and child welfare advocates to stuff holiday stockings for children currently in the foster care system at a Congressional reception sponsored by FosterClub. The event also marked release of a new brief, “Hoping for a Home for the Holidays,” by FosterClub and Kids Are Waiting, a project of The Pew Charitable Trusts.
The brief reports that more than 340,000 children in foster care will not spend the holidays with permanent families, but will be with foster families, or in group homes or institutional settings. Although many foster parents and supportive adults will do their best to make the holidays happy for these children, many former foster youth report that being in foster care makes the holiday season especially difficult. On average, children living in foster care spend nearly 29 months in the system – which means at least two holiday seasons without a permanent family.
By changing the federal structure for how child welfare services are financed, more children could spend the holidays and the rest of the year with safe, permanent families. Most federal dollars dedicated for child welfare support can only be used after children have been removed from their homes and placed in foster care. Removing this financing “straitjacket” would allow more money to be used for preventive services that could keep families together or to limit the amount of time children spend in the system. Greater flexibility in the federal child welfare financing system would also help create and support permanent, loving families for children to help them leave foster care through reunification, or when that's not possible through adoption or legal guardianship.
“I think Christmas was the worst. Christmas reminded me that I was in foster care,” said Sherena Johnson, age 22. “On Christmas, I would watch others open their gifts with love, knowing that it came from their parents. But I knew mine came from an Empty Stocking Fund or the state government, because they would always be in a black garbage bag. The presents weren't wrapped.”
Former foster youth from fifteen states, including California, Connecticut, Georgia, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Wisconsin, gathered together to show the more than half a million young people still in the foster care system that they have not been forgotten and that foster care, while necessary, should not be a long term solution.
The youth reported that spending time in foster care meant feeling especially lonely, isolated, and unwanted during the holiday season. Children in foster care often have no contact with parents, other family members, or friends during holiday celebrations, and they miss out on family holiday traditions like attending services or enjoying special holiday foods. For children in group homes, the holiday is usually celebrated with a dinner for residents, overseen by group home staff.
“I still suffer from what I like to call the ‘foster holiday syndrome,'” said Juan Jones, age 19. “I never did and never will enjoy a holiday like those that have homes and best friends to experience them with.”
Participants in the reception noted that foster care is a necessary safety net for many children and, unfortunately, each year some children must spend the holidays in the foster care system. However, they pointed out that the inflexibility of the current financing system means more children will have to experience the same struggles they faced.
ABOUT FOSTERCLUB: FosterClub is the national network for young people currently in, or who have experienced, the foster care system.. FosterClub's website, publications, events and annual AllStar internship program offer the tools and resources these youth need to connect with one another, to share their experiences and insights, and to achieve personal success. For more information, please visit www.fosterclub.com.
ABOUT THE KIDS ARE WAITING CAMPAIGN: Kids Are Waiting: Fix Foster Care Now is a national, nonpartisan campaign dedicated to promoting foster care reform. Led by The Pew Charitable Trusts, an ever-growing number of local, state and national partners are working together so that our most vulnerable children don't spend their childhoods waiting in foster care for the families they deserve.