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Do kids in foster care have reason to hope for a better life?

"It's not always a quick (or smooth) transition from one end of the "hope spectrum" to the other. Similarly, it's not a simple jump from thinking "I have no idea how I'm going to get through this" to life being smooth sailing." 

I had the privilege of guest lecturing in one of my grad school courses this past semester. The class was titled "Child Maltreatment." As you can imagine, it's not the most uplifting course. I spoke about the challenges young people who have experienced foster care face as they age out of the system.

At the end of my presentation, a student shared that they work in child welfare and often tell the young people they work with that "it will get better" and to "have hope." Then the student asked, "should I not be saying that? Is there hope? ... It doesn't really seem like it."

This question really impacted me. I understood where the student was coming from completely; the dim statistics often make it seem like kids in care are doomed.

My response to this student was: Hope for... what? Hope for a perfectly “normal” life that matches that of their peers? Probably not. Hope for a life that contains happiness, safety, love, and success? Absolutely.

It's not always a quick (or smooth) transition from one end of the "hope spectrum" to the other. Similarly, it's not a simple jump from thinking "I have no idea how I'm going to get through this" to life being smooth sailing.

A professor sitting in on the lecture wanted to know what, exactly, made a difference in my journey. The question is like many I've been asked before: What made me want to go to college? What support did I have that other kids from care usually don't? What magic phrase did a caseworker utter in the depths of it all that completely changed my perspective and saved me from the life I was doomed to live? And - most of all - how did I make it through unscathed?

The truth is, I'm not unscathed. No one is. We are all shaped by our experiences and impacted by both the good and bad things that happen to us.  I was never doomed - none of us truly are. These statistics, though meaningful for research and advocacy purposes, make no tangible difference in our personal lives. A statistic, though indicative of trends amongst a population I belong to, does not indicate whether I have enough money to pay my rent next week or whether I will have an emotional break down tomorrow. (Grad school is much more indicative of that.)

There wasn't one single person or moment that really made a difference - it was a lot of people and many moments. There isn't a magic formula. I got through the first 23 (almost 24!) years of my life like most of us get through anything: by putting one foot right in front of the other and taking it one day (or, some days, one hour) at a time.

If you’ve been paying attention to what’s been happening in child welfare, hopefully you feel hopeful, too. There are conversations happening about free community college, about increased support for students from care, and strategies being implemented to support generally underserved students. Michigan is at the front of the movement with organizations such as FSM and all of our partners. Change is happening. Difference is being made.

If that student would have asked me when I was 14 years old and in a group home if there was reason to hope, I probably would have stared at her blankly and replied, “I don’t know. I hope so.”

Today I’m saying yes, indeed, definitely, positively, I know for sure there is hope.

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Fostering Success Michigan is a statewide initiative that aims to increase access and success in higher education and post-college careers for youth with experience in foster care. Learn how you can contribute to building a holistic network that insulates (i.e., strengthens protective factors and reduces risks) the education to career "pipeline." 

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