BAKERSFIELD, Calif (KERO) — A Kern County organization that supports foster youth just celebrated 10 of their kids graduating from high school. This as the odds are often stacked against this group. Statistics from the California Department of Education show only about 58 percent of kids who grow up in foster care in Kern County will walk across that stage. But that is not all, once school is over, they are faced with even more obstacles.
Kern County has almost 2,000 kids in foster care. These are kids who suffer from the trauma of being separated from their biological parents, or who maybe don’t have the constant attention of an adult. And all of that is reflected in their educational performance.
At the state level, a little over half will graduate from high school, compared to 83 percent of non-foster youth. When looking at the data, there is a huge gap between both groups in almost every section like absence, suspension rate, and stability.
Aside from already carrying trauma from being separated from their biological parents, Kristen Cabalka with Bakersfield Angels explains on average a foster youth will move homes seven times.
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"The amount of courage required to tell their story to teachers year after year, to make new friends in new high schools, there are just so many challenges."
"Each time they move they fall behind 6 months from an educational standpoint, which makes sense because it is new schools, new teachers where you are not known, a new set of parents, new siblings, and as they shift they are falling behind," adds Bakersfield Angels Executive Director Allison McClain.
CHANGING THE STATISTICS
It is those statistics the Bakersfield Angels are trying to change.
"A huge goal of our programs is placement stability and if we can keep kiddos in the same home and we can support that family that has said yes to fostering so they can say yes one more day to that placement, that is the ultimate goal," continues McClain. "It is that these kiddos can grow up in stable homes and stay in the same schools and graduate on time and go on to do big things."
McClain says staying in one home allows them to create long-lasting relationships with teachers and friends, and allows them to participate in sports or after-school activities that they would not otherwise be able to accomplish.
In the meantime, they pair up a foster child with a community member.
"And when they have a mentor that is one of their goals, is that when these kiddos graduate in our programs that they either sign-up to go to college, to a branch in the military or go to trade school," says McClain.
And it's paying off. This year 10 teens in the program graduated and celebrated their resilience.
"We believe with all of our hearts that these kids who are teenagers, need long-term mentors who will say I want to see you walk across that high school graduation day and I will be that person watching, cheering you on," adds Cabalka.
TRANSITIONING TO ADULTHOOD
Looking at the state averages and how behind foster youth are compared to other kids in terms of school and community engagement the outcome is that many transition into adulthood without the proper tools and support to succeed. And some of it has to do with foster youth not knowing about available resources.
"If they need clothing, food, household supplies, school supplies, if they need help with getting food stamps, medical. If they need help with employment, job training programs, access to college, the use of a computer a phone," says Jayme Stuart, the child and family services coordinator with the Kern County Network for Children.
And that is just some of what they offer. Stuart says it is open to all former and current foster youth up to the age of 25, adding that having support during those transition years is vital as many risk homelessness once they age out. This is also why they are always looking for household item donations.
"This is their first apartment or they are working on getting their first apartment and they need gently used pots and linens and everything you need to function by yourself," says Stuart.
They also take clothing and shoe donations for all ages, including professional clothing to help with job interviews.
Despite those resources, Stuart says sometimes all foster youth need is just someone to be there.
"They are just coming in because they need help with car insurance. They are struggling at school and need some advice like how 'I handle these different situations.'"
And it is that mentoring relationship that Bakersfield Angels is working to expand.
"These kids have a narrative in their mind so much of the time, that adults show up for a little while and then are gone. And we want to be the people who say we are not going anywhere," said Cabalka.
The Bakersfield Angels have a waiting list of current foster youth who are requesting a mentor as well as the Love Box program which is a support system for families currently fostering kids.
"And so we are asking you Bakersfield, just to be those people to stand up and say 'hey. I am a regular person but I do care about the kids in our community.' And these 13 boys and 11 girls are waiting for you as mentors and all you have to do is be a person who would want to spend some time with a youth that really needs a healthy adult in their lives," adds Cabalka, who serves as the executive director of the Love Box program.
And there are so many more kids on their waitlist who want to get paired with a mentor. If you would like to volunteer, you can find that information online.