On the Road with FMC

Writing the New Foster Care Narrative

Bookmark and Share

When I first started writing about foster care, my interest very quickly fell to the compelling narrative of 18-year-old youth emancipating from foster care to an uncertain adulthood. This interest only grew as the two young men I was mentoring aged out of foster care to uncertain futures of their own.

What I didn't understand then was the part I was playing in a much larger movement. The stories I wrote, and those produced by my colleagues in newspapers, on the radio and television, and online were only one part of a greater foster care narrative that would ultimately compel political action. Chapin Hall's Midwest Study, the work of the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative, the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute's Foster Youth Intern Program, FosterClub, Foster Care Alumni of America, and countless other researchers and organizations had created the infrastructure for a narrative that captured the attention of reporters who in turn wrote the stories that captured the public's imagination.

The collective weight of philanthropy- driven research and advocacy, journalistic storytelling, and the voices of the young people themselves bent the will of federal lawmakers to extend foster care to age 21 through the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008. Three years later, this powerful movement is still felt. Last September, California, with one-eighth of the nation's foster youth, successfully passed a law that extends foster care to age 21. In states like Maryland and Massachusetts, which already care for their wards past 18, the new federal dollars are allowing for better services. As this movement crests, another--potentially more transformative--wave is building.

The evolution of foster care has taken us to a place where safety and permanency are no longer adequate goals; rather, the field is looking to ensure a child's well-being, a goal firmly rooted in that child's educational stability and achievement. And like the movement before it, all the pieces are coming together to create a positive surge that we at Fostering Media Connections hope to join.

Today, a growing but still incomplete compendium of research is showing us that foster youth score woefully lower on all academic measures. But the real story is that when resources are directed to the educational success of students experiencing foster care, the results can be incredible. Across the nation, I have seen heightened collaboration between child welfare administrations and school systems. The National Working Group on Foster Care and Education has brought together a wide array of funders, advocates, and experts--including CWLA--to focus on this very issue.

Additionally, Senators Al Franken (D-MN) and Patty Murray (D-WA) have put forward legislation that would compel the Department of Education to focus on the educational success of students in foster care. President Barack Obama and key members of Congress have also made clear their intent to re-authorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act this year, opening the flood gates of possibility.

So as I ponder my involvement in a narrative that drove change a few years gone by, I think about my part in a narrative to drive change to come. The push for educational equality for all children is on, now we just need that story to reverberate in hearts and souls across the nation.

To comment on this article, e-mail voice@cwla.org.

Bookmark and Share

Have something to say?

Let us know!

Send a letter to the editor at voice@cwla.org.