On the surface, the first five years of my life looked wonderful as I had the loving support of my parents and siblings. However, my mother’s schizophrenia affected my father, a Vietnam War veteran, who resorted to alcohol to handle the stress of caring for a mentally ill spouse. I was removed from my family and set adrift from foster home to foster home for eight years. I felt alone and confused, continually moving without a stable environment with no permanent family and no sense of security.
There are 153 million youth worldwide going through the same thing – youth who have lost at least one parent (UNICEF), and over 437,000 children raised with no permanent family in the United States alone (Congressional Research Service). The global and national challenge of providing for these orphaned and foster youth to cultivate healthy and bright futures is not only a daunting challenge, but a profound opportunity for all government and nonprofit leaders.
Five years ago, my father passed away. Life never handed me the easiest of paths, but it allowed me to meet other youth along the way that had it far worse than I. I was blessed that my sister became my legal guardian; seeing a real-life leader and caring adult in my own life showed me the power of having a guardian and a stable connection. One of the few things that anchored me over the years was knowing that I would have a voice for those who were going through the same struggles. Leaders in governments and organizations should partner with nonprofits such as Family & Youth Initiative to unite efforts and finances to support foster youth and help provide those lasting connections. Having a permanent presence and caring adults in the lives of foster youth is important and should be a call for all leaders and organizations to come alongside these youth in need.