Pink tennis shoes, graduation and foster care

May 29 2012

By Callie Langford

It’s high school graduation week here in Austin and I know a lot of teens are really excited to be finished with high school. I remember my own high school graduation as being a bit of a letdown. At the last minute our principal told me I couldn’t walk the stage if I continued to wear the pink tennis shoes I had put on with my cap and gown. It ruined my night.

I know what you’re thinking – “Big deal Callie, it was just some tennis shoes!” I agree with you. But in high school, everything is a big deal. If I made such a fuss about pink tennis shoes, can you imagine how youth in foster care might be feeling as graduation approaches?

The rates for high school graduation are much lower for foster youth than for the general population, so right now a lot of teens are facing another year in school or the unfortunate option of dropping out.

For foster youth who do graduate, they’ve just become adults without much of a safety net who may be trying to go to college or getting a job and caring for themselves all alone. It took me a long time to adjust to college and I spent many weekends of that first semester driving home to see my family. What if I hadn’t had a family to drive home to or call?

And for foster children who aren’t seniors and still have more years in school, there’s no guarantee they’ll be coming back to this same school to see their same friends next fall since they could be moved to a new foster home or placement.

As a teenager when your emotions are volatile, something like pink tennis shoes can mean a lot, but the uncertainty of being in foster care means a lot more. Luckily for a lot of the foster youth in the Austin area, they have a CASA volunteer to support them, encourage them to make it through high school and guide them through their next steps in the world. As you’re watching your own teen or your relatives or a friend’s teen graduate this week (or sending out those graduation gifts), I hope you’ll keep in mind the teens in foster care for whom the uncertainty of this week might be pretty overwhelming, and think about what you can do to help them.