You know me. I am a full time advocate for re-envisioning foster care in America. Vision begins with what we want for our children. Getting people together to create and articulate this new vision is key to moving forward as a nation. Highlighting our collective vision and innovation are critical next steps to securing broader investment. Recently I have been in conversation with innovators across the country who are also eager to make this happen. One of them told me about an early childhood conference in California called Investments in Early Learning that I found very interesting.
The keynote speaker was Joan Lombardi, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Policy and Inter-Departmental Liason for Early Childhood, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. She made a great speech and in it spoke about what she wants for young children in America. In it she said, “Here’s my top five, my list of what I want for children. Number one, joy. We need to accept that it’s okay for us to have, as a goal, that children are joyful. Then, order. Maria Montessori understood this. Third, persistence. Our kids live in an instant world, and when things don’t happen quickly, they give up. Fourth, curiosity; and fifth, language. Not just words, but the language of math, the language of music.”
Ms. Lombardi inspired me. I sat down and began writing My Top Five. Here it is. It’s a list of what I want for children who have been removed from their homes and placed in the public foster care system.
Number one, life-long connections. We need to accept that its okay for us to have, as a goal, that children in foster care are provided with enduring family relationships and lasting community connections so they can spend their childhoods within a loving family system and a supportive community.
Then, opportunity. When I walked through the doors of child welfare for the first time, the lack of opportunity was the first thing I noticed. I looked at my children by birth who had been given the gifts of possibility, community wide encouragement, and opportunity. I looked at the little ones in my arms, spoke to their peers who were leaving the foster care system and was inspired to level the playing field. We all know about the 25,000 young Americans who “age out” of foster care annually with no family, no community and few opportunities. We know about the every day challenges they face and the fact that they are at high risk for homelessness, incarceration, leaving school without a diploma, teen parenting, and lives of poverty. It is time to change this depressing and predictable statistic.
Third, stellar mental health services so the half a million children who are in foster care, and the thousands who are being removed from their homes and placed in foster care across this country every day can understand the complexities in their lives, begin to heal and move forward to live an expansive and connected life.
Fourth, innovative educational experiences so they can thoroughly enjoy learning, feel competent at school, be on par with their peers, and graduate with a diploma and a positive plan for their future.
Fifth, our investment. Without our investment of time, resources, and innovation things will remain the same. Lives will be wasted, potential will go untapped, and the nation will continue to fill homeless shelters, prisons and mental health facilities in communities around the country with young Americans in our backyards who we did not invest in when they first entered the public foster care system. We need to turn this ship around. In order to do that Americans need to invest in the lives of its most vulnerable children.
Many young people in foster care whose lives have been surrounded by investment and innovation are flourishing. They fill us with hope and encourage us to continue developing an array of public and private partnerships that inspire leading edge thinking and action.
Thanks Joan Lombardi. I appreciate your diligent efforts to promote investment in early childhood development. And I love the first item on your list. Joy. Now there’s something to shoot for. Joy for all children in America. Let’s start today! Bring joy to our young people in foster care. Contact me through my blog: Out of the Foster Care Box. Contribute your unique investment!