The COVID-19 crisis has turned everyone’s lives upside down. But for young people who have experienced foster care who are transitioning to adulthood, this crisis is hitting especially hard.
I consider myself a success story, one of the resilient 3 percent of foster youth who age out of care without families who graduate from high school and college. I am employed as a social worker and life skills specialist in Louisiana and am even planning to begin a Master’s degree at LSU this May for the summer semester. I’ve worked hard to get where I am and am proud of my accomplishments.
I’ve come a long way on this journey. I entered the foster care system in rural Louisiana when I was 13, and stayed until I “aged-out” at age 18. I was separated from my siblings, and experienced multiple placements— not all of them good. It was a very difficult time for me, as I was trying to cope with trauma, depression, and grief and loss while also dealing with typical teenage issues. Despite undergoing those challenges, entering foster care was a saving grace for my overall life; I’m not sure if I would be alive if I hadn’t entered the system, due to the extensive abuse and neglect I faced at home.
And even though I’m in a good place now, with education, a good job, and blessed with a network of supports that I’ve built, I can’t stop thinking about the young people who are aging out of care right now, and what living through this epidemic all alone must be like for them.
Even for me, the social isolation, constant changes, and lack of control brought on by Covid19 reminds me of feelings I experienced while in foster care. I feel disconnected from my loved ones, from my job, and from myself. I am trying different techniques every day to prevent myself from falling into a deep depression, as I am unable to do many of the things that I would normally do, such as volunteer work, community activities, hanging with friends, and going to church. While I do have a therapist that I meet regularly, this crisis has prevented me from being able to regularly schedule with her.
Like many other former foster youth, both in Louisiana and nationally, I am struggling with the anxiety of food insecurity and income cutbacks. As I provide all the support for myself and my sister during this crisis with a decrease in income, COVID-19 has forced me to utilize all my savings. I can only hope that I will be able to continue to meet our financial needs. I think I will be okay, because I have an education and network to support me.
But I worry about the other young people who have recently aged out of care without anyone they can turn to. We know our national and state leaders are working hard to help the people and businesses hurt by this terrible virus. But, I hope they won’t forget young people from foster care who need extra support and resources.
As a young adult advocate, I can think of several things that could be done that would help right away. First, youth who were formally transitioned out of foster care usually don’t have access to the services they had while in care, such as housing or educational supports. Young people in this situation should be allowed to re-enter foster care after age 18.
Second, there are simply not enough resources to meet the needs of young people from care. Specifically, we need more Chafee Foster Care Independence Program (CFCIP) resources. It’s one of the only federal programs that provides flexible funding to meet youth needs, including things like room and board, educational supports or job training. And,the work and education requirements should be waived during this crisis as our jobs and education plans are on hold.
Perhaps most of all, young people who have exited foster care need someone they can call to ask for help, and need someone checking in with them to see if they are ok. Chafee provides case management resources to help look out for our young adults from foster care.
I know there are a lot of people hurting right now. But I can’t help but think of the thousands of young adults from foster care, who are alone, with no one they can turn to for help. I hope someone will answer their call and help.
This perspective piece was written by Aliyah Zeien, a 24 year-old graduate student at Louisiana State University.