May is National Foster Care Month, a time to acknowledge the families and professionals who help children and youth in foster care each day.
There are approximately 437,000 children in foster care nationally, while Los Angeles County is home to the largest child welfare system in the United States, with more than 35,000 open cases at any given time.
Intended to be temporary, many foster children end up spending years in the system, and each year, thousands of children age out of the foster care system without being adopted or reunified with their birth families.
Across the county, as well as in the Santa Clarita Valley, the need for foster care assistance has accelerated after a yearlong pandemic, with three local organizations working toward providing that and more for youth.
Fostering Youth Independence
Since 2017, Fostering Youth Independence has been working to make a difference in the lives of Santa Clarita’s foster youth by giving them the tools and resources they need to succeed in both school and life.
The past year has been especially challenging for foster youth due to the isolation, with support systems either shutting down or difficult to access due to technological disparities, according to Carolyn Olsen, executive director and co-founder of FYI.
It was this that spurred FYI to begin The Study Place program, offering free tutoring, help with homework and Wi-Fi for those in need of it.
It was the children’s evident appreciation that kept FYI volunteers working to find creative ways to support them with other resources, such as drive-by care package pickups.
“We adapted so that it would be safe, but that they would still know that we cared and could still support them and meet their needs,” Olsen added.
FYI is always in need of more volunteers. For more information, visit fyifosteryouth.org.
CASA of Los Angeles
Over at CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) of Los Angeles, the nonprofit and its volunteers work one-on-one with many of the foster youth across L.A. County and in the SCV to help them complete post-secondary education.
Volunteers are trained to become advocates for children who are in foster care through the court system, as well as building relationships with them, according to Angela Daughtry, manager of recruitment and outreach at CASA LA. “Our role is to be that constant person in the youth’s life.”
Through the pandemic, volunteers have remained consistent, transitioning to mainly virtual visits via video chat or text messaging, while still able to have socially distanced visits once in a while.
“The youth have been shocked and surprised because the volunteer has been consistent, and they tend to open up to the consistency of the volunteer,” Daughtry said.
CASA has seen an increase in volunteers, especially in the SCV, though more are always needed, with the organization there to support volunteers as they learn to support the youth.
“Children in the foster systems definitely need people that will take time to be the support for them as they navigate this difficult time in their lives,” Daughtry said, adding that if one is unable to volunteer, there are a number of other ways to support the organization.
For more information, visit casala.org.
Children’s Bureau, a nonprofit child abuse prevention and treatment organization, also works closely with foster youth, helping to place them with foster or foster-adopt families.
Foster parents provide a stable, nurturing family until children can either return to their birth family or be matched to an adoptive family, while foster-adopt parents are prepared to offer children a permanent family if they become available for adoption, explained Marcia Morris, recruitment coordinator for family foster care and adoption at Children’s Bureau.
These families are asked to: protect and nurture children, meet developmental needs and address delays, support relationships with birth families, connect the child to safe and nurturing relationships intended to last a lifetime and to work as a member of the bureau’s professional team.
“We’re just looking for people who can meet the children’s needs,” Morris said. “And the pandemic did not stop children from entering foster care.”
In the past year and a half, the organization has approved 38 families, but there are still many more who are in need of assistance.
Children’s Bureau welcomes every individual regardless of race, age, religion, disability, marital status, ethnic background, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression to become a resource for children, and qualifying families receive training and support throughout their journey.
Children’s Bureau hosts monthly Zoom orientations for those who want to learn more about becoming a foster or foster-adopt parent, with the next one scheduled 4 p.m. Thursday. For more information or to RSVP, email [email protected].