We cannot ignore the ‘domestic asylum seekers’ who need rescuing
As the political parties battle over the plight of illegal refugees who are flooding into our country across the Mexican border, officials of sanctuary cities are rushing to provide emergency assistance. In New York City, more than 10,000 refugees have received medical attention and rapid COVID-19 tests, food, clothing, prepaid phones, legal assistance and transportation to a temporary shelter. In addition, a network of government nonprofits and city agencies has helped to provide access to government resources and benefits for housing, health care and food. As they arrived, they were met with a warm handshake from the head of the city’s Office of Immigrant Affairs.
This is being done as another group of American-born domestic asylum seekers’ needs for housing and other forms of assistance is met with hostile indifference. They must sit by in silence and watch as resources are extended to those from other countries and not to them. Who are these domestic refugees?
They are the more than 20,000 young people who “age out” of the foster care system each year, with nowhere to go, no place to call home, and no connection to care. The comprehensive support provided to immigrant families has been sparked by stories of the trauma they experienced in their treacherous journey across America’s borders. Yet the youths exiting the foster care system likewise have been traumatized. In fact, 25 percent suffer from the direct effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). As they are serially shuttled from foster home to foster home, they lack a sense of stability, belonging and self-worth, which typically results in emotional and psychological decline.
Without guidance and opportunity, the prospects for those who age out of the system are dim. Fifty percent will not have gainful employment by age 24; fewer than 3 percent will earn a college degree at any point in their lives; and seven out of 10 girls who age out of the system will become pregnant before they are 21. Studies have revealed that 70 percent of youths in juvenile detention centers spent some time in the foster care system. In essence, they are held hostage in a system that purportedly was created, implemented and funded on their behalf. Their plight has been met with a deafening silence because these “asylum seekers” lack the marketable value that the migrants have for ideologues or political operatives.
Though government agencies and departments have failed to recognize and respond to the plight of those aging out of foster care, solutions do exist — and they can be found in the community associations and faith-based organizations that took responsibility for families and children before the self-perpetuating foster care system was instituted.
Years ago, one of my organization’s affiliates instituted a family-to-family initiative when a Black mother with 10 children arrived in Los Angeles after being given a one-way Greyhound bus ticket from her small Mississippi town. A Black surgeon who became aware of her plight reached out to his colleagues to recruit families to work with her. Four families came to her aid and took turns providing a home for her and her children, along with child care, support and guidance.
Throughout the years, that model has spread across the country and initiatives have continued to emerge to strengthen and support families, with a goal of reducing the number of children who are taken from their homes. Even the youths who age out of the system are not considered beyond hope, and community initiatives offer transitional housing and, most importantly, a sense of self-worth and belonging.
Among these initiatives is Safe Families for Children in Wisconsin, an organization that works with a network of community resources to reunite families and resolve the issues that created their crises. It identifies “host families” who provide a safe and nurturing temporary home and “family friends” who offer hot meals, babysitting and transportation assistance to give families in crisis a sense of connection to the community.
In Ohio, Community of Hope was created to provide youths leaving the foster care system with a personal connection and relationships that promote growth, healing and encouragement to reach for their dreams. The focus of Alia Innovations in Minnesota is to provide support, guidance and information for caregivers to equip them to provide the sense of love and belonging that is necessary for children’s healthy development. You Gotta Believe is a New York City-based national organization that specializes in finding permanent families for young adults, teens and preteens in foster care. Yet another resource that can support the needs of families and the neighborhood initiatives committed to their uplift is Open Table in Arizona, which has created models through which people from an array of community sectors — including business, education, faith communities and health care— can invest their social capital in individuals with complex needs who are facing daunting challenges.
These are just a sample of initiatives that concerned and caring individuals have launched to meet the needs of families and children in jeopardy.
Unlike immigrants from other countries, America’s young asylum seekers did not voluntarily take on their arduous and devastating journey. Their plight is not related to anything they did, any choice they made, or risk they took. Support for the community- and faith-based organizations that are authentically committed to addressing families’ critical needs can prevent the entry of even more children into the trap of the foster care system and can make a crucial and sustainable difference in their lives and futures.
Robert L. Woodson Sr. is the founder and president of The Woodson Center and editor of “Red, White, and Black: Rescuing American History from Revisionist and Race Hustlers.” Follow him on Twitter @BobWoodson.