FOSTERING COMMUNITY BLOG
Suicide and foster care
September 10 is recognized as World Suicide Prevention Day. According to youth.gov, suicide is the second leading cause of death among youth ages 15-24 in the United States. And studies show that children in foster care are more likely to consider and attempt suicide than those who have never been in foster care. A history of trauma, abuse, and loss, as well as feelings of hopelessness surround children and youth in foster care, and these are also all major risk factors for suicide.
National Angels founder and CEO, Susan Ramirez, retells the story she once heard a judge share at a foster and adoption conference years ago...
The story is of two boys who had come in and out of this judge’s court room. Both had taken a lot of abuse throughout their lives, including physical, verbal and sexual abuse, torture, neglect and starvation. Both entered foster care at two years old and spent over 15 years growing up in system. They were both on medications for behavioral and emotional needs, and both were diagnosed with over 10 different mental health disorders. Both had been through over 30 court appearances in their lifetime, and both ended up in a Residential Treatment Center (a live-in facility for people struggling with substance abuse, mental illness or behavioral problems).
Just a few days before aging out of the foster care system at 18, one of these boys found out he had been adopted. His new father came to get him and said to him, “Son, I am sorry it has taken me 18 years to find you. But you will never have to worry about where you go from here. And you are my son, until the day that I die.” This boy’s new family put him through school, and he eventually created one of the largest foster and adoption agencies in the state of Texas. The trajectory of this boy's life was forever changed.
The other boy, who had nearly identical circumstances as the first, was never adopted before he turned 18 and aged out of foster care. At this time, he left the RTC and began to walk - until he found the nearest freeway and threw himself in front of an 18-wheeler to commit suicide.
The risk factors for suicide for the second boy were high - family history of childhood maltreatment, history of mental disorders, feelings of hopelessness, loss, social isolation, and barriers to accessing mental health treatment. So how could this have been prevented?
According to the CDC, "Suicide prevention strategies share two goals: to reduce factors that increase risk and to increase factors that promote resilience or coping. Prevention requires a comprehensive approach that occurs at all levels of society—from the individual, family, and community levels to the broader social environment."
One significant prevention strategy for decreasing suicidal thoughts and attempts is increasing family and community support - and Houston Angels was created to do just that. Our mission is to empower children in foster care and increase relational permanency by building sustainable, supported foster homes. Our programs focus on healing trauma through healthy relationships and community support. Our volunteers are everyday people who are matched with foster families and foster youth, based on zip code and compatibility, to build these relationships and provide them with consistent holistic support and mentorship. We believe that the power of love and community can make a lasting difference for children in foster care, as well as their selfless caretakers.
No child should ever feel so hopeless and alone that they take their own life. Every single child deserves to feel loved and worthy, and grow up to become who they were meant to be. To find out more about Houston Angels and how you can help support the foster care community, please visit www.houangels.org.
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PO Box 420966
Houston, TX 77242