System reform iconSystem Reform
Brianna Franco

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Young people in foster care are two-and-a-half times more likely to consider suicide, and four times more likely to make suicide attempts than their peers. Up to 80% of young people in foster care have substantial health issues, compared to the 18-22% of the general population. Young people who face trauma are automatically at risk of suicide later in their lives. When I signed up for counseling in high school, I was still not prepared to face my traumas and throughout my years in counseling, not much progress was made. When it came to my “healing style”, sitting in a session where talking it out was supposed to lead me to this wholesome healing was not effective.

There is a pressing need to improve the availability and quality of mental health services for clients. Agencies often have difficulty providing adequate, accessible, and culturally appropriate services for those in foster care, especially for youth of color, who are disproportionately represented within the child welfare system. Additional efforts are needed to highlight and address the contextual and organizational barriers to delivering effective mental health services as a strategy to reduce racial disparities in delinquent behavior. In a study of youth ages 12-17 in foster care, researchers found that provision of communitybased mental health services reduced delinquent acts in African American youth. African American and Latino families are more likely than white families to be reported for child abuse and neglect, with higher rates of having children removed from home.

The factors that contribute to entering foster care are: poverty, substance abuse, domestic violence, parental incarceration and sickness. Children and young people of color have unique developmental needs, from infancy to adolescence. During the earlier stages of life, culture and ethnicity play a large role in the healthy development of children. As children get older, they become increasingly aware of differences and that those differences have social meaning. This is the time youth begin to recognize prejudice and social inequities based on race, becoming at risk of developing a negative self-image. Differences in how we learn also bloom during this stage in life. Children whose learning styles aren’t mainstream can be at risk of being labeled “aloof” or “disobedient,” which can result in disciplinary action or youth being placed into special needs courses. In attempts to increase stability of young people aging out of foster care, The Mockingbird Society is advocating for $5.2 million to start transition planning at fourteen. The funds would provide dedicated staff to facilitate and support young people in transition planning and improve coordination with Independent Living Services (ILS).

You, the reader, might be asking how this correlates with mental health for foster youth. Planning ahead to create stability will alleviate stress that can contribute to mental health issues. It’s incredibly daunting to figure out how you will survive on your own after foster care. Planning may be particularly important for the long-term success of youth of color, being aware of the societal barriers that can bring economic stress and prevent success from being the outcome. With this transition support, youth can envision their futures more clearly, freeing up their time to establish who they are, identify themselves, and other experiences that are usually associated with young people who have support systems in place already.

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We welcome submissions of articles, poetry, artwork, and photography from our young readers who have experience in the foster care system and/ or homelessness. If you want to be, or have been, published in the Mockingbird Times visit www.mockingbirdsociety.org, call us at (206) 407-2134 or email us at youthprograms@ mockingbirdsociety.org. Note: Incoming letters to the editor and correspondence to youth under 18 years should be addressed to the Mockingbird Times and will be opened first by adult editorial staff.