What older foster children need -- a parent and a path to higher education

Whose heart wasn’t pierced upon reading the story of fifteen-year-old Davion Navar Henry, of St. Petersburg, FL, a foster child who has asked, publicly, for a family that can “reach out and get me and love me until I die?” As a former foster child, my heart broke to see that Davion, an older foster child, is still facing the same struggles that I encountered decades ago. 

Davion was born to a mother, now deceased, while she was incarcerated, and he has since been raised in foster care. "I just want people to know that it's hard to be a foster kid,” he said. “People sometimes don't know how hard it is and how much we try to do good."

This courageous young man has put into words what so many other foster children have not or cannot express - that they all deserve the unconditional love of a forever home. Annually, over 40,000 children in the United States age out of foster care at ages 18 or 21, alone without parents or family to help guide them during the difficult transition into adulthood.

These young men and women will be pushed into society without a support net to rely on when any setback occurs, and many will end up homeless, incarcerated, or worse.

These are not bad children; they simply had bad parents. Part of the problem is that before aging out of the system, older foster children are given lessons on how to live independently rather than what they really need - a parent and a pathway to higher education.

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Instead of hoping that the “independent living” training works for them, we need to change course and begin considering the idea that older foster children are still adoptable. Davion has brought greater awareness to this proposal through his effort to publicly market himself for adoption.

Why did Davion do this? Because he knows what other older foster children know all too well: if they do not find a forever home, their destiny is solely up to them. They will sink or swim on their own. And that is a frightening and heavy burden for a parentless young adult to comprehend.

Even if older foster children are not chosen to be adopted, we still need to show them the pathway to a higher education.  As a child who grew up in and out of the foster care system, I sensed early on that my future was bleak, and I kept questioning why I was dealt my hand while others seemed to live the type of lives that I could only imagine in my dreams.

I was never sure if I would live through another week, let alone have time to think about the lofty goal of attaining a college degree. Somehow, though, I managed to join the less than 1 percent of former foster children who become college educated.

For as bad of a hand as I was dealt, at least here in the United States there are resources available for struggling young adults, unlike other countries where children without parents are more easily discarded.

For disadvantaged and underprivileged students, our country provides federal and state college tuition aid, state-run higher education institutions, and an abundance of charity. But it can still be downright overwhelming to figure out how to seek out and apply for all of these available resources. All older foster children, like Davion, should be put on parallel pathways: finding a forever home through adoption at an older age and pursuing higher education. Although both paths are preferred, these children at least deserve the chance to attain one.

Meanwhile, we should support and encourage all the Davions among us and let them know that we understand how difficult life is for them. At the same time, we can show them that we are ready to help them find the one thing that all children really want: a family who will love them forever.

Regina Calcaterra, Esq.'s New York Times Bestselling Memoir, Etched in Sand (HarperCollins) tells the story of how she and her four siblings survived an abusive childhood of abandonment, homelessness, and foster care. Regina is a member of the board of You Gotta Believe, an organization that successfully works towards providing forever homes for older foster children.