Our Opinion: Foster care law helps forge vital links

Opportunities are not always equal.

We commend Missouri’s Legislature and governor for working to equalize opportunities for a wider spectrum of young people.

We are referring to Gov. Jay Nixon’s signature on foster care legislation which includes a provision to require the child welfare system to introduce young people to educational and career opportunities — specifically a visit to a Missouri university, community or technical college or military recruiter.

The woeful data shows only 2 percent of adults who have made the transition from the child welfare system have earned at least a bachelor’s degree. National statistics provided by the Central Missouri Foster Care and Adoption Association also show 51 percent of those adults are unemployed and 30 percent receive public assistance.

DeAnna Alonso, executive director of the association, said the new law prompts “injecting the idea (before 18 years old) of post-secondary education and career planning; giving foster youth a stronger and more viable platform to succeed.”

Although that concept may seem self-evident, Alonso referenced the words of one foster care graduate, who said: “Education is not ingrained in us as first priority. I think once we age out, we’re more concerned with how we are going to live and what we are going to do, and education is the last thing on our minds. We are just trying to survive on our own.”

Columnist George Will addressed the importance of family and education in a recent commentary titled “A case for upward mobility” published on the June 19 Opinion Page.

Will cited author Friedrich Hayek, who characterizes families as the primary transmitters of human capital, defined as habits, mores and education. “Hence,” Will wrote, “families much more than other social institutions or programs, are determinative of academic and vocational success.”

And although Will argues, “coping skills are incubated in families,” he acknowledges the importance of education. “Today,” he continued, “the dominant distinction defining socioeconomic class is between those with and without college degrees. Graduates earn 70 percent more than those with only high school diplomas.”

The case can be made that people in the child welfare system suffer a double disadvantage regarding family and education.

They may be separated from both family incubation and educational empowerment.

The foster care law, commendably, is designed to narrow that gap.

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