‘We are sending more foster kids to prison than college’

Laura Bauer & Judy Thomas:

Taken into foster care, through the eyes of a child

Before she was an inmate, Michelle Voorhees was a kid in foster care. Painting a vivid picture, Voorhees asks you to imagine the harrowing, disconcerting experience of being removed from your own home. By Shelly Yang | Neil Nakahodo

For the past year, The Kansas City Star has examined what happens to kids who age out of foster care and found that, by nearly every measure, states are failing in their role as parents to America’s most vulnerable children.

Roughly 23,000 kids across the country are churned out of the system every year, and their lives highlight a distinct path traveled by many:

Taken from an unstable home. Terrified by their first contact with the state. Emotionally and cognitively damaged in care as they are moved from home to home. Robbed of an education equal to their peers. Turned out to the streets unprepared to stand on their own. And changed for life.

“We are sending more foster kids to prison than college,” said Brent Kent, who spent the past 3½ years helping Indiana foster children transition into adulthood. “And what do we lose as a result? Generations of young people.

“I think as a society we view foster children the same way that we might view offenders coming out of prison or addicts in recovery. We forget that they are just children, that they were put in foster care and removed from their families through no fault of their own.”

As part of its investigation, The Star surveyed nearly 6,000 inmates in 12 states — representing every region of the country — to determine how many had been in foster care and what effect it had on their lives.

Of the inmates who took the survey, 1 in 4 said they were the product of foster care. Some spent the majority of their childhood in strangers’ homes, racking up more placements than birthdays.