May 13, 2016

By Nancy Buckner, Commissioner, Alabama Department of Human Resources

May is National Foster Care Month.  It is a time to uplift our foster children who are in foster care through no fault of their own.  It is also a time to honor the dedicated men and women who readily accept and nurture the children in our state’s foster care system.

In Alabama, there are approximately 5450 children in foster care.  Foster children have been removed from their parents because they have been abused or neglected.  They are in care due to their parent’s inability to keep them safe for various reasons.  Many of them have parents with drug issues. Some of their parents have other limitations that negatively impact their ability to safely parent their children. These children are traumatized and emotionally fragile.  They need a safe, caring and loving environment.  They need to heal from wounds that can be seen and also from those that cannot be seen.

It is critical that children not only heal, but thrive, in the foster care system.  Their physical, emotional and educational needs must be met. Children should not remain in the system for long periods of time.  Two years in the life of a four year old is half of his or her life; this is too long.  Permanency is vitally important for each and every child in order for him/her to reach his utmost potential and become a normal, healthy adult.

All children in the foster care system need a safe, stable, loving and permanent family.  Often this means children return to their parents or biological family, and sometimes the children are adopted by their foster parents or another adoptive family.  I am forever appreciative and grateful to the relatives and the foster and adoptive parents in Alabama who provide a permanent home for our children and youth in the foster care system.
Unfortunately, all foster children do not have permanent families by the time they are emancipated or “age out” of foster care. National statistics indicate that within four years of “aging out” of the foster care system (usually around 18 or 19 with no permanent home) over 20% of these former foster youth are homeless, a little more than half will graduate from high school and less than 3% will earn a college degree by the time they are 25.  Over 70% of young women who age out of foster care will be pregnant by age 21 and only half of emancipated foster children will be employed by age 24.  Permanency and other resources for foster children can resolve many of these issues and must be at the top of Alabama’s priorities.

One of the resources now available to our foster children is the Fostering Hope Scholarship Act. Through Governor Bentley’s leadership and the sponsorship of bills by Senator Dick Brewbaker and Rep. Paul Lee, the act passed our Legislature last year. This act is the first in Alabama to provide financial assistance to qualified foster youth so they may attend any two-year, four-year or technical state institution in Alabama beginning this fall.  My hope is that we will continue to develop more resources like this that will greatly improve the likelihood of each foster child becoming successful as an adult and fulfilling his or her potential.

It is incumbent upon all of us to take care of the foster children of Alabama for they are an important part of Alabama’s future. I believe that children learn what they live; therefore, we must make sure that we create the best possible environment for foster children while they are in our care and provide them the same opportunities for success as children growing up with their birth families. Our commitment to help foster children is not only necessary for them but also the communities in which they live and the entire state of Alabama.

We as kind, caring and loving people must do everything within our abilities to help uplift these children and youth of Alabama who are victims of abuse or neglect. We must also give them a world of opportunity, where they too may live productive, successful and happy lives.

May is Foster Care Month; however, for a foster child every month is Foster Care Month.