James spent nine birthdays living in foster homes and an institutional facility. One year after another, he wondered if he would see his mother again, yet he knew in his heart that a future of watching her struggle with drug usage wouldn’t be favorable. Eventually, James and his siblings were placed with foster parents in the Jackson area. One day, while living with a gracious foster couple in Madison, James was notified that he had 2 hours to pack up and be reunified with his birth mother. Relatively soon after the reunification, James’ most recent set of houseparents became aware that he was living in an abandoned house on the Gulf Coast and were heartbroken. Seeing that the placement with his birth mother had failed, they welcomed James into their home and guided him while both parents worked full-time jobs in the Jackson metro. The foster mother contacted a member of Sunnybrook’s staff through Sunnybrook Cares, a program supporting foster families with a hospitality home and practical support ranging from delivering freezer meals for families to hosting Foster Mom Support Groups. After being interviewed, James accepted the opportunity to join the Sunnybrook Family. Though he was too old to obtain a high-school diploma, he successfully received his GED while living at Sunnybrook. His math score was so impressive that he received college credit. Now, James rides his bike from Sunnybrook to Holmes Community College next door, pursuing an Associate’s Degree, while having the opportunity to shadow software coders at a large corporation in Ridgeland.
When it comes to homeless youth who spent time in foster care, why can’t they all just “get a job?” After all, aren’t they adults? Imagine not having access to a cell phone, not knowing how to drive a vehicle, and not having money for a sandwich. Imagine not knowing necessary financial information to complete a FAFSA Financial Aid request on your own or how to access funds for community college textbook fees. The foster care crisis can be overwhelming. Approximately 23,000 youth in the U.S.A. are expected to “age out” of the system in 2020. These are teenagers who have not been chosen for adoption or who may be living with zero to little family connection or support.
As children in foster care are placed in multiple homes within various school districts throughout childhood, it is a challenge for them to academically succeed, regardless of their backgrounds. According to The Annie Casey Foundation, foster care youth graduate high-school by the age of 19 at a rate of 58% versus the general population rate of 87%. This is an estimated cost of $2-billion for society each year and a huge contributor to repeated cycles of poverty, as reflected in both state and national statistics of homeless, jobless, and incarcerated individuals. In an effort to feed and clothe themselves, many will eventually resort to selling their bodies or drugs for survival, as more than 90% of youth in foster care with five or more moves will become involved in the juvenile justice system (Juvenile Law Center).
If businesses and individuals will strategically guide children through dedicated children’s agencies before youth are forced to survive without support, the future of Mississippi can drastically improve one life at a time. If Americans long to see lower numbers of incarceration, homelessness, joblessness, teen pregnancy, and even the hot-button topic of sex-trafficking, changes must be made in terms of charitable contributions and volunteer numbers.
Over 4,000 children are in custody of Mississippi today. For those wanting to make a difference in society, there are numerous ways to combat the crisis of children and youth in foster care. As 80% of the Sunnybrook budget is funded by donations, the need is critical to find more support from individuals, churches, and businesses. With 24/7 services, Sunnybrook in Ridgeland provides counseling and tutoring plans, as well as individualized paths for Personal, Educational, and Professional goals. Live-in houseparents are exhibiting healthy relationships and family structure for more than 57 years. Stories of hope are being written each day, but thousands of abused and neglected children are waiting to be served. To have a conversation about various ways to invest in life-change, please call Karleigh Wagner at Sunnybrook (601.856.6555) or visit www.sunnych.net.