Criminal records an unfortunate reality for many in Colorado foster care

HandcuffsThere is something wrong with a system that ends with more of those in its care becoming incarcerated than graduating high school, but that’s the unfortunate reality for foster children within the Colorado state system. A recent PBS analysis of children within state and foster care found that while only 28.7% of the demographic would graduate high school, a staggering 38% would find themselves incarcerated by the age of 19. In short, they’re more likely to have a criminal record than a high school diploma.

Another unfortunate tale of the facts presented by the PBS report, black teens are up to four times more likely than their white counterparts in foster care to enter the child welfare program, and Hispanics are three times as likely. This type of racial inequality is most likely not a shock to most astute news viewers, who have grown accustom to a skew in the opportunities and outcomes stereotypically available to young people of different races in America.

One young man, now 21, says that he started breaking into houses as a young teen, but has stopped since. Even so, he says he is still viewed as a criminal and has that past to continue haunting him. Luckily, groups do exist to help out youth who pass over into adulthood and still find themselves disadvantaged, Bridging the Gap at Mile High United Way is one such organization that provides young adults with 18-month housing vouchers when they come out of foster care or a juvenile detention center by age default. The problem, however, is not limited to just those in Colorado. Nationwide, public records show, those who have at some point in their lives been in foster care are more than ten times than non-foster home children to report their current living arrangement as “in jail/incarcerated.”

Tamisha Macklin, a 26 year old former resident of foster care, says that she spent her youth frequently in and out of trouble and probably could have benefitted from more individual attention. Unfortunately, Colorado, like many other states, has an over-capacity foster system that cannot afford the number of workers ideally necessary for helping to raise and place the children in their care. Now, however, Tamisha uses her past experiences to help others by advocating for foster children. She regularly spends time with lawmakers and lawyers in her state, as well as on the lobbying floors in DC.

Public records and interviews reveal that the reasons behind many of the various assault and altercation charges that pop up on the records of these young men and women can result from the zero-tolerance policies of many foster facilities. If two siblings got in a spat at home, for example, a parent would likely sort the issue out and discourage the future behavior through mediation or punishment. Administering this case-by-case help is more difficult in a foster home, where any altercation is usually going to result in everyone involved being charged with assault. It’s too simple to blame the workers however, as these problems are more indicative of a broken system, more than anything else.