I recently attended a panel discussion put on by the Television Academy Foundation and FosterMore, a coalition of nonprofit organizations working to raise awareness of the youth in America’s foster care system. The discussion focused on the difficult issues that foster youth and families in America face and encouraged a more positive portrayal of foster youth. I have worked with a number of foster families. I even took in a couple of older kids for a while and have always had a soft spot for children in need.
I have never made a secret of having been adopted. It wasn’t that common in the 1950s. The foster system wasn’t really extensive back then, so it saved me from being raised in an orphanage.
Have you ever considered what that must be like, to not have a family? Mine wasn’t like Ozzie and Harriet — it was more like a cross between Ozzie and Sharon and an MMA match — but it was our family and, despite its dysfunctions, was always there for me in some form or another. My parents weren’t happy with me when I walked away from a National Merit Scholarship to join a rock band, but they always opened their door to me, no matter what shape I was in or bad decisions I made. At one point, I spent my last $1.25 on a hot-fudge sundae knowing my old room was still there if I needed it.
So, what does a kid with no family do in times of crisis? They turn to their “friends” and open themselves up to being exploited. There’s a new term for kids on the street who live with older adults who prey on them; it’s called “survival sex.” As I watched an episode of “The Fosters” on Freeform — the co-executive producer Joanna Johnson was also on the panel — I realized there are probably hundreds if not thousands of kids with no families who are in compromising situations just like that. I could have been that kid.
My true feeling is that if you don’t have family, you’re lost for life. Having no one is a handicap that holds people back from many things. And this is totally different from being estranged from your family. Imagine having to give your body to someone in return for food and shelter or being a foster kid taken in by a family who’s only doing it for the money they get from the state. This sad scenario, as much as we try to not believe it, is the norm. So if you have a desire to change some kid’s life from hell to heaven, consider becoming a true foster parent.
Most kids in the system don’t get adopted. Some get taken in by relatives or return to one of their parents, but that’s the minority.
Most get pushed from home to home until they “age out” and, if they have not been given proper guidance, are left to their own devices. Some lucky ones go to college, others join the military, and some even find jobs where they can support themselves. Then there are those who are not so lucky and have to turn to a life of living in the shadows to survive.
There are over 400,000 children in the foster care system, and there are social workers who care, but they can’t do it all; and the need for good foster parents is huge. If you’ve ever had the thought of adopting or of becoming a foster parent, check it out. All it costs is your time, and it could change lives for the better, including yours.
Barton Goldsmith, a psychotherapist in Westlake Village, Calif., is the author of “The Happy Couple: How to Make Happiness a Habit One Little Loving Thing at a Time.”
Tribune News Service