Childhood summers prompt memories of the beach, heading off to summer camp and playing outside with friends until dinner. Summer days should be for making lifelong, cherished memories.
When you live in foster care, however, just because the school year ends, does not mean that your life is any less upended or uncertain. Unfortunately, for children living in foster care, the normally carefree summer months can signal more uncertainty and despair.
The little things that make the end of the school year special – making plans with friends, signing yearbooks, and looking forward to family vacations – can be a source of increased anxiety and depression for youth living in foster care.
Changing of schools and homes happen frequently for foster youth, meaning many youths do not know if they will be living in the same home next month, let alone going to the same school the following September. Frequent moving also negatively influences educational achievement – on average every time a youth moves, they lose three to six months of academic progress, which further alienates them from their peers.
Foster youth may enter a new school mid-year, so they might not even be part of the yearbook, their picture missing from the smiling-faced rows of their classmates. Entering school late, changing schools or moving as much as foster youth do also hamper their ability to create bonds that lead to lasting friendships, especially when their classmates may already have deep friendship bonds from growing up together.
As for vacations or any activity that takes a foster youth out of their placement, approval from the courts must be sought. That means that for a foster youth to attend summer camp or visit a sibling, who lives in a different foster home in a different town, is at the mercy of a slow-moving court system that is buckling under the weight of too many children under their care. This process halts the freedom of planning trips or the ease of participating in activities that could a provide a much-needed distraction for the youth.
These challenges can lead children and youth living in foster care to see the summer months as an extension of ambiguity, confusion, and isolation, rather than as a time to enjoy.
For these reasons, we must continue to fight and advocate for all foster youth so that they realize a permanent home – reunited with their family, placed with relatives or adopted as quickly as possible – so they too can enjoy the lazy, sun-drenched days of summer and create their own lifelong summertime memories.
Child Advocates speaks on behalf of children who are in the child welfare system. It is our goal to get them in a safe and secure home as soon as possible. Consider the gift of advocacy or volunteering to make a difference in the life of a child. Learn more: www.childadvoates.net