According to the most recent data from the Department of Health and Human Services, the number of children in foster care in the U.S. declined by almost a quarter between 2002 and 2012, from 523,616 to 399,546. (Reductions among African American children were the most dramatic, declining by nearly 50 percent and accounting for nearly three quarters of the overall decline).
All of which is good news in May, also known as National Foster Care Month. The decline is a testimony to the great work done by foster parents, family members, volunteers, mentors, policymakers, child welfare professionals, and other members of the community who help children and youth in foster care find permanent homes and connections, notes the Children’s Bureau, the government agency that sponsors the National Foster Care Month initiative.
It’s also good news for the many Junior Leagues that have made helping children in foster care a centerpiece of their work in achieving community impact.
What is particularly compelling about many Junior League initiatives is their focus on a piece of the foster care experience that is critical, if often overlooked – what happens when kids age out of their programs? That, experts say, is when public financing tends to dry up and often the newly emancipated children discover what it’s like to be on their own.
Understanding that need, the Junior League of Pensacola’s Steppin’ Out program educates and prepares girls currently in the foster care system who are quickly approaching the time when they will become physically and financially independent individuals. In frequent interactive sessions with the girls presented by community leaders in their respective fields (banking, education, health care, etc.), Steppin’ Out addresses challenges like applying for jobs and college, personal finance, health, etiquette, and arts and culture. Junior League of Pensacola members are fully involved in every element of the program.
Addressing the problem of isolation from support services, the Junior League of Napa-Sonoma received the 2013 Junior League Community Impact Award for its work in helping found V.O.I.C.E.S. (Voice Our Independent Choices for Emancipation Support) Sonoma. Launched in 2009, the program has helped hundreds of foster youth in Sonoma County successfully “graduate” from foster care by providing internal programs and co-located services with a team of partner agencies to meet a wide variety of issues identified by and for youth.
The Junior League of San Diego tackles another important component of the life-after-foster-care experience with its Textbook Scholarship Application initiative, which provides assistance on the purchase of college textbooks to transition-age foster youth attending local colleges.
These are just three approaches – and there are many other programs – but they show what can happen when Junior League volunteers get together to create innovative solutions that help people lead better lives by providing catalysts for positive action.