As we near the end of 2014, we take time to pause and reflect on the many blessings we’ve experienced. However, there are thousands of children that we must not forget. November was National Adoption Awareness Month, which is an opportunity to reflect on the thousands of children across the country-awaiting placement with a family with which they can build memories too.
Last year in Georgia, there were more than 7,000 children awaiting adoption or permanent placement. While the foster care system is designed to be a temporary solution for distressed children and families, it is too often a black hole in which youth get lost and more disenfranchised, sometimes leading to grim futures.
Startling statistics show that 50% of girls in foster care become pregnant by 19, half are incarcerated within two years of ‘aging out’ of the system, and there are 74 percent of former foster children in US prisons.1
As a former foster child, I know all too well the perils, damage and disappointments of the system that can push an impressionable young person to engage in destructive behaviors. I was placed in foster care at the age of 15, transferred to numerous homes, abused while in the system and eventually ‘aged out.’ I was blessed to have mentors and others in the community who took a vested interest in my success, which helped propel me to pursue higher education and ultimately achieve my dream of becoming an elected official.
On behalf of the thousands of youth that are just like me, who have the potential and desire to succeed, but need a strong foundation or even just a helping hand to do so, I implore you to get involved. You can help in your local community by:
Becoming A Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA): A CASA is a person empowered by the courts to be an advocate for a child in foster care. CASAs are volunteers, not social workers or attorneys, as assist the court by gathering information and learning more about the child to aid in providing the best permanent placement option for them. For more information about becoming a CASA, you can learn more from the National CASA Association here: http://www.casaforchildren.org/
Volunteering Your Time: Becoming a mentor to a foster child or volunteering your time and resources to assist organizations that service foster children can make a lifetime of difference. www.childwelfare.gov is a national resource that will provide information about local organizations in need of assistance.
Considering Adoption: The idea of expanding your family by adopting a child may seem scary. But if it is something that you’ve considered, countless resources are available to assist you through every stage of the process. The life-changing benefits in the life of the child that you’d adopt definitely make exploring organizations like The Dave Thomas Foundation (www.davethomasfoundation.org) for more information.
When you make room for one, you give a child the gift of opportunity and a loving home, both of which can be a major factors in positively shaping their future. My goal is to empower and inspire foster children to dream big. With your support and willingness to make room for one, then you’re helping to fulfill that dream; their dream of finding a family.
About the Author: Erica Thomas is a newly elected State of Georgia Representative for District 39, serving parts of Cobb County. She is the founder of a non-profit called Speak Out Loud, with the mission of giving a voice to foster children, and is also the author of the forthcoming children’s book, It’s Erica, a series of children’s books about the magical adventures of a foster child. For more information about Thomas, follow her on Twitter at @ItsEricaThomas.