Youth coming in to foster care have already experienced so much disruption, chaos and loss in their young lives that what happens next can define their chances for future success. Providing these kids a stable, positive foster environment in which they are truly nurtured is imperative. Foster youth need to feel a sense of belonging where they are heard, cared for and protected, even before a permanent placement can be found.
Still, the ultimate goal of the foster care system is always to achieve permanence; to find a “forever home” for every child. This stability and sense of security is vital to foster youth’s long-term success. However, achieving permanence is more difficult than imagined. Often love and safety isn’t enough. Foster youth have been through so much in their young lives – many having endured years of abuse and other trauma – that therapeutic interventions are often required for permanence to be achieved and maintained.
Only when mental and behavioral health needs are addressed can these children begin to process what they’ve been through and understand that their past does not define them. Too few youth in foster care are provided the mental, emotional and behavioral services they need to become happy, healthy and high-functioning adults. This reality has prompted Excelsior to make it a priority to support this population of youth so they, too, can reach their highest human potential.
Excelsior’s Role in Helping Foster Youth Succeed
By partnering with high-quality CPAs, like Hope & Home, Excelsior is helping reshape the world of foster care by filling in the gaps to provide comprehensive, quality care to foster youth. Excelsior provides the expert mental and behavioral health services that has historically been limited to foster children.
Excelsior provides individual therapy to help kids process through past trauma, build resilience and develop more positive behaviors. Additionally, Excelsior helps children learn to trust again so they can build strong relationships. By working with the entire family, Excelsior helps families develop the capacity to address future challenges together.
An added benefit of Excelsior’s partnerships with CPAs is that we can ensure a seamless transition to their “forever family” when the time comes. This continuity of care ensures that this transition is successful and the entire family has the support and resources they need.
The Distressing Reality of Foster Youth
A disproportionate number of youth in foster care come from families with the fewest psychosocial and financial resources along with the most complex needs. The majority of these kids come from poor and disadvantaged families, and have lived in deprived, chaotic environments including extreme poverty and homelessness for most, if not all, of their lives. Considering this, it’s not surprising that 70% of children are placed in foster care due to an imminent threat to the child’s safety, including abuse or neglect (Source).
Inadequate caregiving is a rampant cause for kids entering the foster system. 70% of kids in foster care have a history of maltreatment and 80% have been exposed to significant violence. This can be partially attributed to the high rates of mental illness, addiction, and criminal histories found among the biological parents, problems often rooted in their own traumatic childhood experiences (Source). To learn more about this vicious cycle of child abuse victims becoming perpetrators later in life, known as the cycle of abuse, click here.
Risk Factors for Foster Care Youth
Unfortunately the distress that foster youth experience does not stop even after they’re safely removed from their dangerous environments. These negative childhood experiences stay with them and influence their lives for years to come, often in the form of mental and behavioral health problems.
Adolescents in foster care are at high risk for having or developing mental, emotional and psychosocial problems. These issues, when left unresolved, create additional problems like leading adolescents to engage in increasingly risky behaviors, which only fuels the cycle of trauma and distress. Adolescents entering foster care report high rates of violence exposure, substance abuse, and sexual activity including unplanned pregnancy. In fact, youth in foster care are 2.5 times more likely than their non-foster care peers to experience a pregnancy by age 19 (Source).
Even infants and very young children are greatly impacted by traumatic experiences in their early lives. Infancy and early childhood are critical developmental periods for children, when qualities like attachment, trust, self-esteem, empathy and impulse control are learned. When infants lack the caring attention they need during this developmental period, these qualities are often unlearned or underdeveloped (Source).
Additionally, evidence shows that childhood trauma and adversity can affect the neurobiology of children’s brains, including the areas of the brain responsible for emotional regulation, attention, cognition and memory (Source). This can lead to serious mental and behavioral health consequences later in life.
So even if kids are too young to remember the traumatic experiences they endure, they are not immune to the consequences that result.
The good news is that there is hope for foster youth despite the alarming prevalence of risk factors. If we make mental and behavioral health a priority, we can heal these kids, combat the risks facing them and prevent further trauma and disruption.
First, we must provide a stable, nurturing foster care environment for every child until permanence can be achieved. In these environments, many children attain significant improvements in their health, development, intelligence, and academic achievement (Source). These results demonstrate that foster care can actually be a positive and therapeutic intervention for some children, but only when they are supported in a nurturing environment and their mental and behavioral health needs are met.
A great example of an organization that provides the best possible environment for foster youth is Hope & Home, one of the largest, most dynamic child placement agencies (CPAs) in Colorado. Hope & Home has succeeded in creating a program where first-rate foster parents truly nurture children until their “forever home” can be found. Not only does Hope & Home pour their hearts and souls into achieving permanence for every child by finding a strong, stable “forever family”, but they also understand that children need more than a roof over their head in the meantime. True to their name, Hope & Home gives kids hope and a home while finding them a family that will embrace them with love and raise them to thrive.
To learn more about Hope & Home, please click here.
Another factor of Hope & Home’s success is that they understand that some children require more than this to find lasting success. They recognize that many kids require intensive therapeutic intervention to thrive. Unfortunately, access to these services is limited because these children are covered by Medicaid meaning they can only afford entry-level professionals who don’t have the experience necessary to effectively treat them.
“Hope & Home’s partnership with Excelsior has shifted this paradigm by giving foster children access to top-of-the-line, seasoned professionals who can meet their needs. As such, the progress we have seen in children who have been treated by the Excelsior staff has been life-changing for them.”
– Gina Milne, Director of Development (Hope & Home)
Pairing the expertise of Excelsior’s mental and behavioral health services with the stable, nurturing care of high-quality CPAs like Hope & Home, along with a mutual commitment to achieving permanence, is exactly what’s needed for foster youth and families to succeed in the long term.