It’s not until the news reports that a child has died or been rescued from an abusive home that attention is drawn to the plight of the 542,000 young people in the U.S. foster care system. Roughly 38% of those children are African American, reports the Administration for Children & Families. Studies show that foster care children who are eligible for adoption outnumber those who get adopted each year, with a disproportionate number of black children on the waiting list.
According to a survey in the journal The Future of Children, far too many foster care youth go ignored in terms of their health and educational development. Not enough of them get the guidance they need to help them become self-sufficient adults. “We are dealing with an antiquated foster care system. There is a push for reform, but it is slow to change,” notes classically trained ballet dancer and actress Victoria Rowell. Perhaps best known for her current role as Drucilla Winters on the CBS daytime drama The Young and the Restless, Rowell was raised in foster care from infancy until age 18.
The Emmy-nominated actress was among a panel of experts that was convened earlier this year on Capitol Hill by The David and Lucile Packard Foundation. Rowell says, “I was invited to the Capitol to give recommendations on how to improve foster care and to speak on healthcare disparities for foster children.”
Rowell is also the founder of the Rowell Foster Children’s Positive Plan, a scholarship fund for arts- or sports-related training. The nonprofit organization also assists with job placement for emancipated foster youth (those who turn 18) at companies such as Viacom, BMG, and Paramount. Rowell challenges BE 100s companies and other black professionals to offer career opportunities, including internships.
“It’s important to provide foster youth with job prospects before they turn 18 and are emancipated; otherwise you could potentially be trading the child welfare system for the penal system.” Rowell also notes that it can take up to a decade for an emancipated youth to get his or her footing.
To prevent this cycle, Rowell explains, “An overhaul of the foster care system is possible if there is political will at the top.”
Suggested areas of change:
- Improved mental health services for children in need of therapy
- Local rehabilitation centers for biological parents with substance abuse problems to address issues of family reunification
- Greater scrutiny and improved screening of suitable foster parents
- Increased numbers of qualified caseworkers in children and family services agencies
- Smaller caseloads and more pay for caseworkers
- Kinship care centers for grandparents who are fostering their grandchildren
- former foster child rowell advocates for reform.