True foster care prevention starts with the next generation of parents

Guest Blog by Crystal Houston and Emma Schab. Crystal Houston is the Director of Operations at the Center for Community Transformation. Emma Schab is the Regional Director of Bethany Christian Services.

The U.S. is in the midst of a foster care crisis. Currently, there are more than 400,000 children and youth in the foster care system nationwide. Across the state there are roughly 13,000 children in foster care, and right here in Kent County, 532 children and youth are in foster care. 

Organizations like Bethany Christian Services, a partner of the Grand Rapids Center for Community Transformation (GRCCT) provide preventative programs that aim to keep families together and keep children from entering the foster care system. 

But focusing on prevention includes looking forward at the next generation of parents. We must empower them by investing in an optimistic vision paired with resources to meet the various needs of youth.

GRCCT is housed in the 49507 zip code, a neighborhood whose residents have been impacted by systemic challenges and policies rooted in racism, such as redlining, lack of investment from private businesses, and a lack of employment opportunities. This translates into a low-income tax base, lower home ownership rates, and lower investment in schools, which further contributes to racial and geographical disparities compared to other neighborhoods in Kent County. These disparities greatly impact youth, as 30% of the population in 49507 is under the age of 19, and children and youth in this neighborhood have experienced the highest rate of removal from their homes and their families. 

 We know removal causes permanent trauma that has adverse physical and emotional impacts on children, youth, and their families, making them more susceptible to remaining stuck in a cycle of generational trauma. It also keeps the next generation of children at risk of being trapped in the same cycle as well.  

Bethany and GRCCT aim to interrupt these cycles, making way for positive transformation. GRCCT provides a wide array of developmental opportunities that meet the holistic needs of youth, including mental health services, GED programs, job training, education on maintaining healthy relationships, and more. 

By utilizing these resources, youth like Ka’vin have been able to thrive. He came to GRCCT after dropping out of high school and feeling like he didn’t have the skills to help him thrive. Throughout his childhood, he struggled with poverty and uncertainty that kept him trapped in a cycle of fear and self-doubt. He wanted what every young adult wants: to finish school, get a good paying job, and have stable housing. But there were additional barriers in place keeping him from achieving his vision for the future. After seeing other friends get connected to resources through GRCCT he decided to do the same. He enrolled in GRCCT’s YouthBuild program, allowing him to earn his GED while also learning trade skills and construction certification that could lead to a full-time job. 

From there, he was recruited by a local college, enrolled in its business program, and is pursuing his undergraduate degree at nearly no cost with the help of several academic scholarships he earned. Ka’vin is even returning to GRCCT to help instruct in the YouthBuild program where he first began to change the trajectory of his life.

Ka’vin was capable of transformation, but the barriers in his path threatened to keep him in a reoccurring cycle of trauma.  

By coming alongside youth with resources that meet their needs and encouragement to help them achieve their vision, we can do the true preventative work by disrupting cycles of trauma and poverty, allowing them to reimagine a brighter future for themselves and for their future children.