Life Challenges and the Importance of a High School Diploma for Foster Children
As I think back on my own life experiences as a foster child, it really is some kind of miracle I made it to my high school graduation. I recall having been burdened by the struggles of being abused, a runaway, a drop-out, attempting suicide, moving from the north to the south three times, and lacking all family love, guidance, and support. Yet and still, somehow I graduated from high school. Today, I realize the demands on all children to excel in academia, along with increased expectations for advanced performance in other areas of their lives is quite daunting. The guidance provided by parents who are invested in their children's development and upbringing is akin to a success blueprint ensuring their children have a good start in life but for the foster child, it’s a completely different road traveled.
On average, foster children are not prepared to participate in AP or Honors classes nor are extracurricular activities readily available to them. The opportunities to volunteer that are required to be competitive for college entry applications are nil. There is minimal and bleak parental guidance, if any at all, and part-time work is not usually accessible to the foster child due to state regulated cumbersome restrictions, so there goes their foundational experience and resume-building opportunities.
Additionally, there isn’t really much talk, if any, in the home of which college they plan to attend or how to begin that journey because more often than not there aren’t any invested parents available to assist in the development of such a plan. Foster children are doing all they can to just survive the turbulence of their current moment while dealing with the shadows of their past: their traumatic memories, their depression, the chaos, feelings of hopelessness, lack of self-esteem, and sometimes very dark thoughts of suicide because they lack support and options.
Before delving into the challenges they face upon emancipation, let’s first look at what precipitates their challenges. First and of great importance is knowing what age they entered the foster care system, how many times they've move, and how inconsistent has they education been? I wish I could address one of these concerns without the other two but that would be unfair to the foster child because they all directly affect the challenges these children face as they approach emancipation.
The age at which they enter foster care directly affects to what extent they are
psychologically affected by the traumatic experience of being removed from their biological families and dropped of at a complete stranger's house, now called their foster parent. This affects their sense-of-identity, self-esteem, and sense of safety; all crucial for healthy development.
How many times have they heard, “This is my foster child”? How many holidays have they felt like the odd ball in the room? How long has this psychological damage been cemented into their psyche? The number of times they’ve moved from foster home to foster home and school to school will directly affect their sense-of-belonging in any micro or macro-system. Each time a child moves, they suffer social, educational, and psychological maladies from instability. Their lack of self-worth amplifies their challenge to socially acclimate, and whether they feel or don't feel accepted and understood by others can be the difference between future resiliency and pathology.
The second tier of challenges foster youth face as they approach emancipation is “do they have a trustworthy and consistent support system”. This element is needed for all youth transitioning different life stages but the dichotomy for foster children is in their suffering of exasperated burdens from not only lacking a solid family to provide guidance and emotional support, but also to be able to have long-term trusted relationships with people who have their best interest at heart. Who are we as a species if we do not have long-term support from trusted relationships? All of these elements are exponentially multiplied in their future if they do not graduate high school. I often say, “leaving foster care without a high school diploma is like trying to climb a latter that doesn’t have any steps”; it’s nearly impossible to progress. If a foster child does not have the proper family support AND does not have a high school diploma, how can they succeed? The outlook is grim, and yet, our nation currently suffers from countless homeless, unemployed, and/or incarcerated foster care alumni because as it is, nearly half of these children leave foster care without graduating high school.
A high school diploma is their primary asset, which provides for an even playing field from which they can progress. Despite their emotional and financial burdens, a high school diploma opens the gates for entry into college, independent living, future opportunities, increased self-esteem, and enriches life’s possibilities. As they become more aware of the opportunities available to them, their high school diploma will provide the means of entry to excel, but without a diploma, their mountainous deficits magnify the probability that they could perish.