What would your life be like without family?
Go ahead. Imagine it.
Take yourself back to when you were a teenager. What were you like? Were you funny, mouthy or quiet, full of dreams – and attitude, bright, maybe even brilliant?
Now imagine your teenage self, left to navigate the world without your family. Picture yourself without years of parental guidance. Without Thanksgiving holidays with family. Without Mom or Dad to call on when times were rough. Without anyone believing that you could be the person you want to be, the person you are today.
Thousands of youth who leave foster care face adulthood completely on their own. They are asked to step out into the adult world without a support system to help them negotiate life’s challenges – in one of the most expensive, and stressful cities in the world.
Only a fraction of the 25,000 US youth who age out of foster care each year will go on to realize themselves as they wish to be. Instead, nearly 50% will experience homelessness; they will be more likely to experience unemployment, unplanned pregnancy, legal system involvement, substance abuse, and lack even the basic health care services. Only a tiny percentage will have a college degree by the age of 26, and most are unlikely to have a high school diploma and earn enough to support themselves.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Just as you blossomed from a wild (or shy) teenager into a responsible, contributing adult, so too can every child in foster care. With a permanent family by her/his side.
This is why we exist.
The status quo in foster care costs lives. And it’s costing us all.
There’s no doubt that the youth who leave foster care without a permanent family encounter enormous and painful challenges. And these challenges also come with steep social costs.
A 2013 report from the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative shows that on average, for every young person who ages out alone, taxpayers and communities pay $300,000 in social costs over that person’s lifetime.
Nationally, approximately 25,000 young adults age out every year, at a cost of $7.8 billion that first year alone. This is because many leave care disconnected from supportive adults and services that would significantly increase their chances of becoming productive, self‐sustaining adults.
Independent Living programs have proved inadequate to prepare these young people for survival, and when polled, 50% of teens within these programs had no recorded sustainable living arrangements after discharge and no positive adults to count on.
Essentially, these young people are set up to fail.
You Gotta Believe exists for one reason…to work toward the day when no young person leaves foster care without the unconditional lifetime commitment of a family–whether that means helping youth reconnect to their families of origin, to other people who have played a role in their lives, or to new families that will make a new commitment to be there for life.