A parent for every teenage foster child

Pat O’Brien’s life work is to find parents for teenagers in foster care. But the straight-talking founder of You Gotta Believe, a New York child welfare agency, doesn’t say he is in the adoption business. He calls it homelessness prevention. That’s because although just 2 per cent of North Americans grow up in foster care, surveys show they make up between 40 and 60 per cent of the homeless population. “The single greatest cause of homelessness in our culture is kids aging out of foster care,” O’Brien says. Busting the myth that no one wants to adopt foster children in their teens, O’Brien’s agency has found permanent families for 400 teenagers since 2001. It is done by tapping into the network of significant adults already in their lives. The Children’s Aid Society of Toronto, which sponsored O’Brien’s two-day visit here last week, is eyeing this unique program as a way of providing permanent parents to foster kids about to become adults. Child welfare systems on both sides of the border spend most of their resources preparing older Crown wards to live independently at age 18, when they must leave their foster families or group homes. Financial support to help them live on their own continues in Ontario and the U.S. until age 21. But after that, there is nothing. Meantime, the average age a child with a family leaves home is 26. “The only program that has any shot of working (to prevent homelessness among former foster kids) is getting them parents,” O’Brien said.

Publication Date: 
June 18, 2011
Journal Name: 
The Toronto Star