foster care

mootje mootje / flickr

The advocacy group Children's Rights sued the state of Michigan over its foster care system more than eight years ago because of the number of kids who were left with abusive families, or harmed once they got into foster care.

Steve Rhodes / flickr

Michigan has been under a federal court order to improve its foster care system for years. The state wants the monitoring to stop, but there's no guarantee that's going to happen soon. 

Being the focus of federal oversight is probably a pain. There are a ton of reporting requirements, it costs money, and the state gets ordered around a lot. 

Paula Laquerre

It makes sense that young people who have been abused or neglected would be more likely to get in serious trouble. But the numbers are nonetheless pretty amazing. Almost half of the minors in the state's adult prison system get there from the child welfare system, and a child with a history of abuse and neglect is 55 percent more likely to be arrested. 

Joe Shlabotnik / Fickr

Can’t believe it’s 2015 already? We can’t either.

Here's a rundown of what caught our attention (and yours) most last year. 

Child development

user Jonas John / flickr

This time next week, most college students will be wrapping up their final exams and getting ready for winter break. They’ll pack up their bags and head home for the holidays. 

It’s probably safe to assume that a lot of people don’t start planning for the holidays until November.  But Joi Rencher isn’t like most people. She works at Eastern Michigan University, and she starts talking about the holidays with her students as soon as they arrive on campus in the fall.

greenandgold.uaa.alaska.edu / Creative Commons

It's important to go to college, we get it.

Kids in foster care get it, too. Almost all of them say they want to go to college. But only one in five actually does. Of those students who do make it on campus, less than 9% graduate.

What's going on here?

Applying for college is a hard process for any student. It involves formulating a (possibly very expensive) multi-year plan to get a degree and plan your entire future. These choices are being made by 16-year-old high school juniors before their brains have even had a chance to fully develop.

The reality is, most kids in foster care are coming from low-income communities. It's hard enough as it is for kids in those communities to make it to college. Even high-achieving kids at low-income schools have a hard time navigating the steps to get to college. 
There are tons of great resources about college access on the Internet, even for kids in care. But this information often doesn't make it to the kids who need it. 

Where the system breaks down in sending kids in foster care to college

  • First things first. To make it to college, you have to be able to graduate from high school. For kids in foster care, who may change schools frequently and deal with inconsistent curriculum, this is hard enough.  

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

The goal for children in foster care is to find them permanent homes. If they can’t live with their birth parents, the next best thing might be adoption. But the road to adoption can be bumpy, and for some children their dreams of a permanent family are dashed before the papers are even signed. 

"I refuse to sink"

Nineteen year old Candice Sponaas is a blonde tomboy with a 1000-watt smile. 

Like a lot of teenagers, Sponaas is really into tattoos. She designed the one on her forearm. It’s a big, floral infinity symbol with an anchor on one end and a rose on the other. In between are the words “I refuse to sink.” As she starts to talk about her broken adoption, I notice her glance down at the tattoo on her arm. It seems to give her strength just looking at it. 

Sponaas moved in with her soon-to-be adoptive family just before she turned 18.  They planned to adopt her in a year or two. But ten months in, things were not going well – especially between Sponaas and the mom of the house. So Sponaas moved out.

"And then we just stopped talking," says Sponaas. "And then she said I think it’s better if we just don’t try to force everything here. I wish you nothing but happiness, but that’s all that there is. So, that adoption is never going to happen."

The U.S. Army / Flickr

Many folks who tuned into Jennifer Guerra’s arresting audio documentary on foster care, "Finding Home," wondered how some of the young adults featured, people like Jasmine Uqdah, were able to overcome so much adversity in their young lives. Their success is so statistically unlikely, that numerically and practically it is almost impossible. So what explains it?

Is it grit?

After foster care, what's next for kids in Michigan?

Nov 3, 2014
vicki watkins / flickr

We've recently spent a lot of time here at State of Opportunity focusing on foster care. If you missed Jennifer Guerra's documentary Finding Home, set aside some time to listen.

Sue Kley

State of Opportunity aired a documentary yesterday on foster care. All this week, we're publishing a series of articles that explore specific aspects of the foster care system, and some of the challenges kids within that system face.

Imagine being removed from your home, from the only place you've really ever known. You're taken away from your parents, your toys, your bed, maybe even your siblings, and told that you have to live here, in this new place with these new people. Imagine what that must feel like.