Tuesday, May 15, 2007

We Must Do More for Foster Children

By William A. Thorne, Jr., Judge, Utah Court of Appeals; Member, Pew Commission on Children in Foster Care

There are half a million kids in this country in foster care today. There are 800,000 kids who will be in foster care this year. That is about the population that was evacuated from New Orleans before Katrina. And we were ready to move mountains to help those people—justifiably—they needed help. And yet people don’t seem to be getting upset that we have half a million kids who also need help.

I issue a challenge to all of you: If these kids were your children, would we be satisfied with what we do for them and on their behalf?

I can’t tell you how angry I am when I hear or read stories like Jessica’s below. When we take kids away from their families, we ought to do better for them. Nobody should have to live the life that Jessica went through. That’s why I joined the Pew Commission on Children in Foster Care hoping to make a difference.

Enough is enough. More than 20,000 kids are going to age out of the system this year. 20,000 Jessicas. One expert came to us at the Commission and told us that of the 20,000 who age out, 60 percent will be homeless, in jail, or dead in two years. Jessica is a remarkable success and she has my admiration for having gotten where she is today.

I wouldn’t have been able to get where Jessica has without a family behind me. I listen to youth like Jessica, and they ask, “Where do I have to go for Thanksgiving?” “Where in the world is there a Christmas present for me under a tree?” “Who will be a grandparent to my children?”

We send more than 20,000 of these youth out into the world every year, and we have half a million whom we subject to this kind of risk. In spite of these failures, successes are possible. One of the things the Pew Commission talked about was how to reorient the resources so that we achieve better outcomes. We need to spend money smarter so that we do better by children. The Pew Commission recommendations suggest ways to do just that.

These aren’t your kids over here, or your kids over there—these are our kids. And we owe them the same thing we owe our own children.

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