Throughout Foster Care Awareness Month, SOS Children’s Villages Illinois is committed to highlighting celebrations and struggles within the foster care system in the U.S. Particularly, we are seeking to call attention to areas or topics often ignored or misunderstood. One area, in particular, is a key focus at SOS Illinois: teenagers in care. Though teenagers make up about half of the population of those in foster care, they often face unique and under-resourced challenges, such as various educational barriers, mental health challenges, and concerns for their siblings. SOS Illinois’ unique Village model confronts each of these barriers so that teens can thrive while in our care.
The reality of the foster care system is that children rarely remain in one place for a long period of time. Instead, they are constantly transferring both homes and schools. Transferring schools repeatedly impacts academics and teens in foster care can miss large amounts of academic work due to moving around. Nationally, only 50% of teens graduate from high school and only 4% move on to receive a college degree. The U.S. Department of Education reports that teens in foster care are at high risk of dropping out and that “a positive PK-12 education experience has the potential to be a powerful counterweight to the abuse, neglect, separation, impermanence and other barriers these vulnerable students experience.”
As opposed to teens in traditional foster care, SOS Illinois high schoolers boast a 100% graduation rate for 14 years in a row. At SOS Illinois, teens have the support and care of full-time Foster Parents to keep them on track academically and encourage them in their progress. Additionally, the stability of our Village and long-term Foster Parents mean our teens do not move around, allowing them to not miss crucial academic opportunities. For all teen preparing for their futures after high school, our College Bound and Beyond program helps prep teens at SOS Illinois for college and careers alongside our corporate partners who generously host workshops and career days for youth in our care.
Mental Health Barriers and Drug and Alcohol Use
Teens, both in and out of foster care, face unique peer pressures that often involve drug and alcohol use. Many see this behavior in biological family members and friends and mimic it. Teens in foster care are more likely to turn to these substances in order to numb or dull feelings stemming from trauma and untreated or undertreated mental health concerns.
Reports reveal that up to 80 percent of children in foster care have significant mental health issues. This differs greatly from the 18-22 percent of the general population of teenagers in the United States. The American Academy of Pediatrics declares mental and behavioral health to be the “greatest unmet health need for children and teens in foster care.”
SOS Illinois is aware of the unmet needs of children dealing with complex mental health issues in foster care. At every SOS Illinois Village, there are on-site clinical therapists ready to help address any mental health concerns that may lead youth to turn towards harmful substances and behaviors. The Village model encourages healthy peer relationships, significant oversight by professionals dedicated to the wellbeing of our youth, and provides opportunities for engagement in workshops and activities that help fill time that may otherwise be used irresponsibly.
Concerns for Siblings
In traditional foster care, 75% of sibling groups end up separated and in different homes, communities, and sometimes even cities. Teens often take responsibility for and worry about the wellness and safety of their younger brothers and sisters. This can lead to increased anxiety, depression, behavioral issues, runaway behavior, and more.
SOS Illinois ensures that siblings are kept together. This way, there is more stability in place for each child and teens do not have to worry about their young siblings moving homes, being mistreated, feeling scared, or losing connection. Instead, they are able to live together as a family.
Your Skills Can Help Youth in Foster Care
There are many ways you can help teens in foster care. Teens need dedicated, healthy, and reliable influences in their lives. Whether you choose to look into becoming a Foster Parent, have experience as a clinical therapist or social worker, or are interested in becoming one of our corporate partners, SOS Illinois can use your unique skills to support our youth.