Who do you call when you have a question? Your mom? Your dad? Best friend?
Who helps young adults figure out how to get their first checking account? Buy their first car? Rent their first apartment?
What if there was no one to call for life’s questions as you grew through adulthood?
Unfortunately, this is a reality for many youth who age out of the Texas foster care system. When a child turns 18 and has not been adopted, they may enter adulthood completely alone with no resources for life’s basic adulting questions. Just because a person turns 18 and is considered an adult legally doesn’t mean one is ready to face all the responsibilities on day one. No matter how old a child is, it’s still comforting to have someone to call when an unexpected question comes up.
Buckner International interviewed Abigail Leal when she was a client in Buckner's program for former foster youth. Here’s a quick update about Abigail’s life and where she is today.
How do older children in foster care prepare for adulthood on their own?
Abigail participated in Buckner’s Foster Youth independence (FYi) program. Through FYi, youth approaching adulthood learn how to prepare for their future independence. Abigail has become a bit of a legend in West Texas, returning often to speak to other foster youth on the path to learning how to become independent.
Buckner caught up with Abigail recently at the Amarillo Sod Poodles game where she threw out the ceremonial first pitch. We asked Abigail a few questions to find out what she’s doing after her experience with the FYi program and what advice she may have to share with others who have a similar experience of aging out of foster care in Texas.
What are you doing now after completing Buckner’s FYi program?
I am a full-time high school teacher. I wanted to be a teacher since I was a child. It’s easy for other people to recommend other career considerations and for a minute I thought about being a lawyer, but it truly only lasted a short time before I focused back on my original dream. It was important for me to follow through with my career goals and achieve what I wanted to do with my life. Today, I’m teaching high school math and about to start my second semester as a teacher. I love what I do and am proud of what I’ve accomplished.
Where did you go to college and how has education impacted your life?
I graduated with a bachelor’s degree from West Texas A&M with a focus in elementary education. However, I ended up teaching high school students and wouldn’t change a thing today. Teaching is my calling. I truly enjoy encouraging my students about the importance of education. This is something I learned from Buckner and now pass it on to other children who are trying to figure out what they want to do beyond high school. I’m always telling my students and current Buckner FYi program participants to focus first on getting an associate degree … and from there, a bachelor’s degree is just two more years after that. It’s attainable and less overwhelming if you focus on a little bit at a time. That’s how I approached it! Education is one of the most important things you can do for yourself, and it will never fail you. Education is a game changer for those looking to travel a different path from the circumstances life may have given you that were outside of your control. But education is something you can control. Stick with it and it will serve you well throughout life.
What advice would you give to others who may be in the Texas foster care system and are uncertain about their future?
First, try to get connected with foster youth aging out services offered in Texas, like Buckner’s FYi program. Buckner helped me understand what financial resources were available to me for my academic goals. This gave me a lot of hope for my future. Also connecting with other foster youth through meetings and activities provides a lot of comfort and human connection. Don’t underestimate having community with others in various stages of life. It’s not easy being in foster care, but it helps a lot when you realize you aren’t doing this alone. Lots of other children are in similar situations and there’s hope sharing in the journey.
How can the United States increase the percentage of former foster youth who go on to earn a college degree?
Did you know just 3% of former foster youth who age out of the foster care system go on to earn a college degree? Abigail is part of that 3%. But she didn’t stop at her associate degree. With focus, grit and determination, she was intent on achieving a bachelor’s degree. Abigail is proof that with guidance, resources, hope and encouragement, children can achieve their dreams. While we believe God wants all children to be part of a loving and family forever, the reality is that many children never get that opportunity for reasons outside of their control.
Some people may have perceptions of children in foster care or prefer adopting a younger child, but the reality is that older children have needs, hopes and dreams too. Regardless the age of a child, they are still a child of God and deserving of love and a forever family. Here are some ways you can help young adults like Abigail who face a potentially lonely future without the resources a family can offer, like advice, encouragement and comfort:
- Pray for God to reveal how you can help change the life of a child living in foster care. Ask him to help remove any fear or reservations you may have about foster care and to develop empathy for children who have no control over their situations.
- Give your time and resources to help a vulnerable child, such as through donations that support local foster youth aging out programs or volunteering to help nonprofit staff.
- Most importantly, consider opening your home to an older child in foster care before they age out. Children who have missed out on a family experience as they enter adulthood still need guidance and to know they are not alone.