Why We Invest in Education for Youth in Foster Care

By Michelle Ocampo McIvor, Special to Treehouse

There are many worthy causes in the world that beg for your time and energy: climate change, racism, poverty, homelessness, infectious diseases and a million more. Our planet’s numerous afflictions feel like impossible battles on multiple fronts, just thinking about them frazzles your nerves with anxiety or makes you shrug in apathy — a protective behavior when overwhelmed by unending uphill battles. Why even bother?

I’m an optimist. And thankfully, many other people are too.

With all the wounds of the world that need healing, how do you choose which causes to support? It’s a good start to give a little here, do a little there, reduce waste and stand against injustice when you encounter it. If you’re like me, an optimizer, you might be curious as to which charitable causes might have a broader impact beyond one focused area. For me, that’s education and kids, particularly youth in foster care.

Foster Care and Homelessness

Unless we treat the root cause of a thing — be it a disease or a social issue — we’re only treating the symptoms. The thing doesn’t actually go away. The disease isn’t cured, the problem isn’t solved. That’s not to say it isn’t worth treating the symptoms. It is undoubtedly necessary. If we can prevent those symptoms in the first place, that’s where we should focus most of our energy.

Take, for example, homelessness: what are the associations? The White House 2019 report “State of Homelessness in America found that “… individuals with severe mental illness, substance abuse problems, a history of incarceration, low incomes and weak social ties are more likely to become homeless.”

Adding to this, the National Law Center’s report on homelessness also cites domestic abuse, unemployment and poverty as correlations.

Mental illness. Unemployment. Poverty. Incarceration. In the context of homelessness, often these are not separate issues. They are linked. One begets the other, until a person has spiraled into a place where there is little hope of getting out. When did it all start?

For many who have experienced the foster care system, the seeds of such outcomes as homelessness started early in childhood. It doesn’t have to be that way. Chronic instability is not an inevitable path.

Youth in foster care are especially vulnerable to mental illness and homelessness, especially those who have “aged out” into adulthood at 18 years old or 21 if they’re in Extended Foster Care. According to one government report (NCBI), of the 25,000-30,000 youth who age out of foster care each year, up to 36% of them become homeless and nearly half of the observed youth had been homeless at least once by the time they reach 26 years old.

I won’t go into detail regarding the economic toll of mental illness, substance abuse and homelessness. There are numerous resources that can speak to that. Note that billions of dollars are pumped into systems that only temporarily patch these social problems.

Education Creates More Than Opportunity

Once social issues are peeled back and closely examined to understand their causes, we can begin to formulate more lasting solutions. And in many cases, education is the cornerstone upon which we can start to build this change.

While education is not a cure-all to our societal issues, it does make us aware of what’s working, what’s not, why and lights a path for improvement. Because without this knowledge and awareness, without a deeper understanding of how the world works—the relationship between people and things, actions and outcomes—we are only grappling in the dark.

An education opens doors and creates opportunities, especially for youth in foster care.

Early intervention and support for successful learning has a broad impact and reduces instances of mental illness, joblessness, poverty, incarceration and homelessness. Investment in youth in foster care and their education spills into many different areas, treating many different issues within our society and impacting the economy in positive ways.

Investing in the education of youth in foster care tells them: “You can do this. I believe in you. You deserve every opportunity to live a healthy, happy and fulfilling life.”

Life is challenging enough for the typical youth even before the pandemic and without any disadvantages. An education with assistance from Treehouse’s Educational Advocacy, Graduation Success and Launch Success programs can increase the confidence, independence and self-worth of youth in foster care as they work to build the life they choose.

May is National Foster Care Month. Get involved at treehouseforkids.org/take-action.

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About the Author

Michelle Ocampo McIvor was born in the Philippines, raised in Toronto, Canada, and currently lives in Seattle. After a career in technology, Ocampo McIvor has returned to her roots to follow her calling in literature. She is the author of “Ugly Things We Hide.”

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