Briana Osbourne is being honored as a Champion of Change for Foster Youth
Over 400,000 foster youth are in foster care across the United States of America, and each year over 23,000 young adults will emancipate or age out of the system and enter the world of adulthood. Statistics show that out of those who age out, one in four will become involved in the justice system within two years, more than 1 in 5 will become homeless after age 18, only 58 percent will graduate high school by age 19 (compared to 87 of all 19 year olds), and fewer than three percent will earn a college degree by age 25 (compared to 28 percent of all 25 year olds). Although many of us have dreams of pursuing higher education after exiting care, many more fall victim to homelessness, unemployment, and incarceration.
Some may consider this information unimportant when considering that current and former foster youth, like myself, make up a relatively small percentage of the general population. However, while we may be few in numbers, many of us experience more traumatic incidents involving abuse, neglect and exploitation before the age of 18, than many adults will face in a lifetime. Foster youth matter because many of us can be found in the faces of your classmates, colleagues, friends and even your family members. We are filled with untapped potential and hold the keys to the success of our communities and our nation.
Fundamentally, there is no difference between my educational journey and the countless youth in care that fall victim to those daunting statistics. As children, we held the same dreams, aspirations and many of us even shared the same classrooms. Conversely, I found solace in seeing those who share my experiences obtain success. I found mentors in individuals like my Court Appointed Special Advocate, foster mother and the numerous others that helped cultivate and encourage me to pursue my seemingly impossible dreams. Their assistance, coupled with the resources I was able to access, such as college-geared workshops, field trips and educational programs planted in me the seed that educational success was truly within reach.
I firmly believe that there is hope for many other youth in care, not just because of my own success, but because of the other foster youth I’ve seen defy the odds as well. There is a great need for more mentors, advocates and supporters of the groundbreaking innovations that are making headway in the child welfare system. There is a need for youth to be encouraged to voice their opinions and for their voices to be amplified. There is a need for more youth to be told that their lives matter, that their past doesn’t determine their future and that they too can be champions for future generations to come. There is also a need for more funding and educational programming that will allow our foster youth to obtain the knowledge they need to succeed. I am calling for more people to stand with me and begin the work needed to create change in our education system.
In everyone lies the power to create an impact. There is no one solution or quick fix to address the education crisis that youth in care face. However, with your help there is hope that each generation of youth will have a better experience than the last. All it takes is a willing spirit and a commitment to not turn a blind eye to the perils youth in and out of care face each day.
Briana Osbourne currently works as a Youth Peer Mentor at Visions Unlimited, Inc. in Sacramento, California. She is a graduate of Howard University.