The findings from a National Online Harris Poll, commissioned by the National Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Association, show 93 percent of African Americans believe improving foster care should be a national priority.
The poll also found that although the community deems the issue important, 87 percent of African American adults polled know little or nothing about the experiences of children in foster care, and more than half (49 percent) know nothing at all about these children.
Furthermore, when the responding adults do think of children in foster care, only a minority (13 percent) cited positive impressions about these children and the foster care system that serves them. Most often, adults picture foster children as poorly treated, facing a hard life and in need of sympathy; 31 percent of knowledgeable adults believe these youth in foster care face unsuccessful futures.
However, when you talk to the youths themselves, you see an entirely different picture.
A national focus group study of 50 current and former foster youth (more than 70 percent were African American) also commissioned by the National CASA Association, found these youths see themselves as uniquely empowered by overcoming adversity, determined not to repeat the mistakes of their birth parents, and were optimistic about their futures.
"I have a constant fear of failure. My parents failed, and my parents' parents failed. But I am not giving up" said a female San Diego foster youth who participated in the study.
"Yes, I have been through a lot of hell and high water, but because of that I am a stronger person. I'm still standing," said a male Dallas foster youth who participated in the study.
"African-American children represent 32 percent of America's 510,000 children in foster care but only 15 percent of the general population. Not only are these children disproportionately overrepresented in foster care, but once in the foster care system, children of color tend to receive fewer services, stay in care longer, and generally have worse outcomes than white children," said Ernestine S. Gray, National CASA Board President and Orleans Parish Juvenile Court Judge in New Orleans.
Despite the lack of awareness by the general population of foster care, 80 percent of African-American adults agree that they have the potential to positively influence the lives of foster children.
"These are people we - and our foster youth – so desperately need," said National CASA CEO Michael Piraino. "We know that when a CASA volunteer is involved, children are 95 percent less likely to re-enter the foster care system. There are people out there who are willing to help, they just don't know how."
When asked what foster children want they say it's simple – "we just want someone to be there to listen. We trust people who are willing to listen to us."
"There are a number of ways caring adults can become involved in the lives of these youth, not only as foster parents, but also as mentors or CASA volunteers," said Piraino. "By becoming a CASA volunteer adults provide the stability that foster youth often lack. That stability helps these children transition from care into successful adulthood and helps ensure that each child has the opportunity to reach their fullest potential."
The conclusions from the African-American respondents of the online Harris Poll indicated African-Americans were:
• More likely to know foster parents;
• Much less likely to have negative impressions (though still significant) of foster parents;
• More likely to want to be foster parents
• More optimistic about the children's future;
• More likely to believe in their power to help.
To volunteer, or for more information on the national studies on foster care, please visit the National CASA Association website, www.nationalcasa.org. You can also call 1-888-805-8457.
In 1977 a Seattle judge, concerned over making decisions about abused and neglected children's lives without sufficient information, conceived the idea of using trained community volunteers to speak for the best interests of these children in court. So successful was this program, that judges across the country began utilizing citizen advocates. Today, more than 950 CASA/GAL offices operate in 49 states, with more than 59,000 men and women serving as CASA/GAL volunteers.