MINNEAPOLIS – This week, 100 people from all over the country are in Minneapolis trying to dismantle a $28 billion problem.
What's that? They say the foster care system as we use it today, and the one many of them work in tirelessly, is broken beyond repair. But, they are not in town to fix it. They are in town to do something much bigger.
“There are about 650,000 kids every year in foster care and the outcomes for youth who age out of foster care are really horrific,” says Amelia Franck Meyer, the CEO of Alia, which advocates for changing the foster care system.
According to Alia, 56 percent of foster children will graduate from high school or earn a GED as a teenager. Only 5 percent will receive a bachelor’s degree or higher by age 26. And, 74 percent of the boys who age out of the program will land in a jail cell as an adult; 42 percent of the girls will do the same.
“The system was set up to keep kids physically safe, to remove them after abuse and neglect, to keep them physically safe and that is what it does,” says Meyer.
While advocates say that safety model is fine, kids need more than just physical safety.
“We know as human beings we all need to be claimed by another human who says, 'No matter what, I’ve got you.’ In the foster care system, we keep them safe in this home. And, then that home and another. But, there is no through thread of ‘You're mine, you belong to me, I have you no matter what,’” says Meyer.
The foster care system is overwhelmed with kids, and understaffed. Case workers don't have time to find that family member, that neighbor, that long-lost friend of a friend to take the child. Therefore, the child goes into a cycle that fuels the results of those statistics.
During their three days at the “10 of 10 For Kids” conference in Minneapolis, advocates for foster children hope to create one to two brand new foster care systems to try out.
“What we are not going to do is fix the broken child welfare system. What we are trying to do instead is to say, ‘We know what kids need to thrive, how do we build that?'” says Meyer.