(via KARK) – As Arkansas’s foster care crisis continues, the state is working to address problems like a shortage of foster homes and overloaded caseworkers. But one issue is often overlooked — the number of kids who “age out of the system” without family support, direction, or knowing how to survive.
We took a look at one group trying to fill the gap in Pulaski County and why taking the time to connect with some of these kids might be the difference you can make to see Victory Over Violence.
“Me being a parent… I want to see her do better than what I did.”
At 21-years-old… Lameika Aycock… has made a promise to her one-month-old daughter.
“My princess… I can’t let her go through a foster care system,” Lameika said.
Lamekia is one of the 200 kids who “age out” of the Arkansas foster care system every year.
“They told me your options is up. You don’t have any more resources. They can’t do anything for me,” Lameika said.
Pregnant, unsure of where to turn, Lamekia reached out to Immerse Arkansas.
A group that aims to fill the gaps…
When asked what her life would look like right now without the group, Lameika let out a sigh, saying, “Wow… I probably would have been in a shelter, maybe.”
According to national statistics, half of older foster care youth experience homelessness by age 21.
“It’s not comfortable or pretty being homeless. It don’t feel good,” Lameika said.
At Immerse, they work to put a roof over kids heads and earn their trust to help them transition into a new way of life.
“You’ve been bounced around, no stability. It’s hard to build that trust.”
In Arkansas, youth in foster care begin life skills training at age 14, learning skills like cooking, filling out job applications, and money management. They can continue in the program up to age 21.
“We do know anecdotally that we have families who generationally come into the system.”
But often, these older kids get discouraged, after multiple placements in group homes or emergency shelters, with no real family connections…
“Yeah — and tired. They just don’t care anymore.”
They’re frustrated — developing dangerous habits, or struggling with mental health issues like depression and anger.
“It’s also a group that is hurting. They’ve come into the foster care system through no fault of their own and they have needs.”
Many of them lack basic adult skills. After a childhood of trauma, things like making a budget or writing a resume are foreign concepts that seem silly when you’ve focused on survival for so long.
“I was surprised at the skill and lack of skills they may have.”
The top three reasons kids end up in foster care are parental substance abuse, neglect and incarceration. Of the children who age out of the system, 1 in 3 fail to graduate high school or earn a GED, 1 in 4 have given birth or fathered a child by age 21, 1 in 3 exhibit substance use disorder, and nearly 1 in 3 have been behind bars or arrested.
That’s why the gathering at Immerse is one way to surround them in support they crave but may be afraid to believe in.
“They’re looking for stability, someone who is going to foster that love for them.”
“Don’t nobody care about me, so I can see that all plays a part in jail, in foster care.”
Volunteers, staff, and mentors willing to give their time, sit down for a family-style meal. It’s an opportunity to connect and teach every Tuesday. It can be the start of these kids going beyond just surviving.
“A lot of it is some proud moments, and I’m seeing a lot of the youth flourish and come from where they were to where they’re going.”
Lamekia knows she has a lot to learn about making a home and being a mother but there are some questions these youth can clear up.
“One person can change how a youth can feel about themselves and where they’re going in life.”
If trauma and neglect can create a vicious cycle, compassion and love could be what we need to foster a better future.