Over 127,000 children, many dealing with challenges including homelessness, drug abuse, and cyber bullying, attend Prince George’s County Public Schools. There are 479 children in foster care across the county, according to the Prince George’s County Department of Social Services (DSS). Of those children, 51 percent are girls and 49 percent are boys. The largest age group is youth from 16-20 year-olds which represents 256 of the entire county’s foster care youth. On June 25, the Department of Social Services is hosting its sixth Annual Foster Care Conference at Laurel High School, 8000 Cherry Lane, to inform residents, honor students, and solicit support for the youth.
“A lot of people came through the foster system,” Brittney Borders told the AFRO. “We said, ‘let’s just do foster care to help out some of these kids as best as we can to prevent them from going into the system or having bad experiences with foster parents’.” Borders, along with her husband, are foster parents for four children. The couple is also the biological parents to four-year old twin girls and is in the process of adopting a six-year old boy.
Jereme Joseph, a teacher in the county’s public school system hosted a birthday party in May – National Foster Care Awareness month – for foster youth. “It was my idea to throw a birthday party for foster youth based on my experience as a classroom teacher dealing with foster youth,” he said. “It’s an underserved community.”
Children enter foster care when their parent or legal guardian is found guilty of abuse or neglect and the youth’s safety is at risk if not removed from the home. The Prince George’s County chapter of Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), which provides volunteer advocates to local foster care children, has helped about 500 children over the last 15 years and has seen about 50 percent of the children return home. Those who are not reunited with their parents live with relatives or are adopted, but 35 percent to 40 percent age out of the system at 21.
“[The children] have not done anything wrong,” CASA Executive Director Ann Marie Binsner told the AFRO. “Hopefully the families can pull themselves together. Our young people have experienced trauma in their lives, sometimes multiple trauma. It is something that most people never experience in a lifetime. Mental health issues are a big concern.”
DSS reports slightly lower results, with 40 percent of foster youth returning to their families and 11 percent receiving permanent guardianship with their foster family. The department says their goal is to support the family in resolving issues that require the child’s removal, so they can return to their home.
DSS also reports that 92 percent of the county’s youth in foster care are living in a foster family home while others live in a residential placement, such as a group home or residential treatment center, for therapeutic purposes.
“They’re graduation rates are typically lower,” Joseph said. “A lot of them are two to three grade levels below where they should be. A lot of them turn to drugs and prostitution. The rate of homelessness is kind of high; the rate of drop-outs is high. A lot of them work minimum wage jobs or suffer from unemployment because their life wasn’t prepared for college and career readiness.”
Youth who enter DSS have their needs for health and mental health services assessed. This includes access to psychiatric, psychological, and ongoing mental health services to address both youth and family issues, including trauma. They are also connected to community-based providers to support the continuity of care. Additionally, youth are provided case management and mentoring support.