National Foster Care Month is observed in the united States during the month of May every year. For 31 days, the conscience of America shifts to the children, youth, and others whose lives have been impacted by foster care. This tradition dates back to 1988 when it was first established by Ronald Reagan. The precedent has endured as U.S. Presidents have continued to issue annual proclamations endorsing National Foster Care Month to show appreciation and gratitude to foster parents and everyone else across the country who support children and youth in the foster care system.
The original purpose of National Foster Care Month was to give foster parents the celebration they deserved for welcoming children into their homes who are in need of care. It still does provide an opportunity for acknowledging the thousands of dedicated foster families who are supporting these young people. It is important to note the great sacrifices made by our nation’s resource parents and relative or kinship caregivers who open their hearts and lives to provide stable and supportive homes. We are fortunate that so many people are willing to accept foster children into their families so they can experience a sense of parental warmth and many of the other comforts of family life. Creating a nurturing and secure home environment is one of the greatest gifts someone can give a child. Although foster parents do not do this important work for the recognition, it is important they know how much the service they provide is valued. We are deeply indebted to these compassionate and selfless Americans. Please take a moment to thank a foster parent for the vital role they choose to fill in a foster child or youth’s life.
The U.S. Congress has highlighted the significance of caring for children and youth who temporarily or permanently cannot live with their families as well. In 2015, the bipartisan Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth introduced a resolution distinguishing May as National Foster Care Month. The resolution called on “congress to implement policy to improve the lives of the children in the foster care system.” This group also organized National Foster Youth Shadow Day, an event which involved inviting current and former foster youth to the nation’s capital. These young people attended meetings at the White House with members of the administration and spent a day shadowing their congressional representatives in the capital so they could share their personal stories. Today, the National Foster Youth Institute gathers 100 individuals to serve as delegates in Washington, D.C. during its annual Foster Youth Shadow Week experience.
May is also a chance to say thank you to child welfare and mental health professionals who assist in addressing the needs of children and adolescents in foster care. There are administrators, behavior health associates, case managers, clinicians, foster care licensing workers, independent living specialists, policy makers, social workers, and trainers in every state that are trying to improve permanency outcomes for children, youth, and families who find themselves entangled in the child welfare system. Employees and volunteers of community non-profits, faith-based organizations, and public agencies are laboring week in and week out in an effort to make the lives of young people in foster care better. They play a vital role helping youth form relationships with families and developing life-long connections between them and the people that matter to them. In addition these staff educate, guide, and support foster parents in order to set them up to successfully manage the many responsibilities they are tasked with. Foster care is a part of a larger constellation of services provided to young people who have been separated from their families. The leadership of these individuals, coupled with an extensive and network of invested stakeholders built through the forging of productive partnerships, make it possible to provide the highest quality of foster care services. We hope you take a moment to let these professionals know how much the critical work they are doing in creating, maintaining, and strengthening programs for foster youth is appreciated.
The focal point of National Foster Care Month has evolved over time as the theme changes from year-to-year based on current dynamics in the foster care field. In addition to honoring foster parents and the professionals who collaborate with them, May is a good time to raise awareness about the magnitude of weight placed on the child welfare system and the ongoing needs of the children, youth, and families involved. We also observe this month with sadness as we reflect on all the young people who have their lives disrupted and enter foster care due to abuse and neglect. Foster youth are faced with many unique challenges beyond the most obvious one of being removed from their home and placed in an unfamiliar household – usually under traumatic circumstances. The problems they encounter include but are not limited to the lack of family attachments; financial assistance; and social, educational, and emotional supports. A disproportionately large percentage of youth who “age out” of the foster care system and have no one to turn to or nowhere to go end up being homeless.
Recent statistics suggest there are over 400,000 placed in foster care on any given day in the U.S.A., which is 100,000 more than the total population of Anchorage. According to Office of Children’s Services, there are approximately 3,000 children and youth in foster care in Alaska each month. These numbers appear to be trending upwards.
According to the Anne E. Casey Foundation national research indicates that:
National Foster Care Month serves as a call-to-action for citizens to invest in the lives of some of the nation’s most vulnerable children and youth. If you are feeling inspired or motivated, there are many ways to get involved. You can simply wear a light blue ribbon, pin, bracelet, or foster care button signifying you support the efforts behind meeting the needs of foster children and youth in the country. If you are interested in becoming a foster parent, there is always a need for more good foster homes. If you are not quite ready to make that commitment, perhaps you can become a babysitter, homeworker, or respite provider and temporarily care for foster youth during evenings or weekends. You can also consider volunteering to be a mentor to a foster youth who is in need of an experienced and trusted adviser.
Finally, updating your email signature line is an easy way to remind everyone about National Foster Care Month. Each email sent helps spread the word and it is easy to add a graphic like the one below.
Please keep in mind that the needs of thousands of foster children, youth, and their families does not fade away at the end of the month. There are opportunities throughout the year to step up and change a lifetime for a young person in foster care. Every foster youth in the child welfare system deserves a home where they feel they belong.