The media accounts of the foster care system failures can be overwhelming. You begin to wonder if any good comes from the efforts of the child welfare system. Then you read an article that gives you hope like the one by columnist Sandy Banks this past Saturday in the Los Angeles Times. It is the story of 187 high school graduates from the foster care system who were recently celebrated at an event at the Walt Disney Concert Hall for not only graduating from high school but who are taking the first steps toward success by going to college.
What is the difference between these high-achieving students and those who have been lost in the quagmire of the foster care system? Are these graduates the outliers? Are they just lucky? Will they eventually succumb to the overwhelming nature of the challenges they face?
Banks points out that several things helped these adolescents defy the odds. One, they benefitted from the collective effort of family, friends, and foster parents who were constant in their affection and support and driven by the youths’ dreams of success. Two, in spite of the challenges, the teens never gave in to the prevailing wisdom that the odds were not in their favor. Instead, they set out to prove the doomsayers wrong, defy the odds, and persevere until success was achieved. A supportive community and the right attitude made all the difference in bringing these young people to the brink of success and hoping to realize their dreams.
Nothing can take the place of one’s determination. Just last week I was in touch with the parents of one of our residents who will soon reach 18 and his social workers. His greatest challenge is being motivated to act on a reasonable plan for his move into independence. Their encouragement for him to act on a plan builds confidence and lays the foundation for greater achievement. Perhaps like some of the youth profiled in Bank’s article, adversity may be his ultimate motivator. But no matter the motivation, what is certain is that without a supportive community and the right attitude or perspective, success will be illusive for him.
The odds of failure are so great that often the general public allows bleak statistics to influence the expectations we have for children and youth in foster care. Without disregarding the harsh realities these young people confront, we do a tremendous disservice defining them by these challenges rather than expecting them to persevere in spite of the statistics.
The young people profiled in Banks’ article possessed a resilient spirit and were surrounded by people who expected them to succeed even when up against significant challenges. Indeed they have, and that experience allows them to face whatever future challenges they will confront with confidence.
Thank you, Sandy Banks, for an uplifting story. Thank you to the scores of volunteers at Hillsides who, together with our dedicated staff, believe in the great potential of the children and youth we serve. And finally, thank you to the many young people we serve, who in spite of the odds, embrace a can-do attitude that propels them into a future that will yield great success.