Opinion: Gold Dome should aid foster youth aging out of system

Credit: StepanPopov/Shutterstock

Credit: StepanPopov/Shutterstock

In 2010, Andy and I began our foster care journey. It started with a friend’s personal story of growing up in foster care. We listened to the difficulties, frustrations and obstacles he encountered. Our hearts broke. When he got to the part about a foster family whose involvement in his story changed the trajectory of his life, we were hooked.

Over the past dozen years, we’ve had quite a few foster kids in and out of our home. It has stretched us, challenged us, broadened our perspectives and deepened our understanding of the realities of the world outside of our north Atlanta bubble.

We started the journey by getting personally involved in the lives of foster kids, but also launching a foster care initiative at North Point Ministries. We strive to provide support, community and resources to ease the burden foster families experience while loving on kids from hard places.

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

Currently, there are 10,649 foster children in the state system in Georgia — all ages and stages from newborns to high school kids. They typically stay in foster homes until they turn 18, or until they wrap up high school. The duration is similar for kids in group homes.

That’s a big number. But, it’s easy to gloss over a number. So, consider this: each of those 10,649 children has a name. She has a favorite color and a favorite animal. He has a laugh and is trying so hard to be brave. Each of them will grow into adulthood and have a continued story of their own.

But their challenges are unique.

Statistics from a variety of national studies do make it real.

  • 70 percent of human trafficking victims report a history of having once been a foster child.
  • 87 percent of boys wind up spending some time in jail.
  • 71 percent of girls report being pregnant within their first year of aging out of foster care.
  • 97 percent of youth who age out of the foster care system find themselves in chronic poverty or worse.

Thankfully we live in a time with an increasing number of independent living resources available to kids who age out, but the obstacles and challenges continue to loom large. Typically, when foster kids age out of the system, they return to the instability of the familiar which perpetuates the cycle of generational poverty, drug abuse and incarceration.

Our own experiences with foster teens reinforced the fact that these tendencies are the norm, not the exception. But what we have also seen is that the more obstacles we can remove, the better the chances of success for these kids.

One of our foster daughters is in her junior year of college right now. She’s succeeding because of the ongoing support and coaching of a foster family — an advantage most foster kids don’t have. While she’s worked hard, she hasn’t had the added pressures that often derail success.

That’s why Andy and I believe it is important for the Georgia Legislature to adopt a tax credit bill that would raise $20 million annually. It would remove some of the biggest barriers for foster kids’ success as they age out of care.

The Fostering Success Act is an income tax credit that would allow individuals, married couples and corporations to donate annually to support unadopted youth aging out of foster care. The purpose is to give added support as students navigate post-secondary education. These funds would be designated to assist with the “wraparound” costs that so often derail kids from sustaining in their educational journey — costs related to housing, food, transportation, counseling, mentorship and other subsidiary items associated with school.

Jesus said we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. To me, that means making sure foster kids are given every opportunity to embrace a different life and transition into adulthood with the same opportunities as children raised in healthy families. Let’s give them every opportunity in our power to avoid being yet another statistic.

Sandra Stanley is the mother of three adult children and wife of Andy Stanley, pastor of North Point Community Church. She is an author and speaker with a passion for promoting foster care in the local church. Sandra received her undergraduate degree from Georgia Tech and her masters of arts in Christian studies from Dallas Theological Seminary.