The Denver Post, Guest Commentary

By: Christine Benero, President and CEO, Mile High United Way

Read the Op-Ed that appeared in The Denver Post here

At Mile High United Way, we are fortunate to work each day with over 100 participants in our Bridging the Gap program, which serves young people who have exited the child welfare system without the supports so many of us took for granted as we made our own transitions to adulthood.

We are grateful to The Denver Post for the compassionate, thoughtful treatment these challenging issues received in the recent Aged Out series. If you have not yet had a chance to read these important pieces, we encourage you to take some time to do so. In this field, we often refer to an “invisible achievement gap” experienced by children in foster care. This series continued the process of bringing this invisible gap into plain sight.

If you were moved by their stories over the past several weeks, you are not alone. And now that you know their stories, it is incumbent upon us all to take action. The well-being and success of young people in the child welfare system are quite literally our collective responsibility. Today, there are about 2,200 of our Colorado youth in foster care right now. If today is an average day, 14 more will join them. If it’s a good day, maybe a few less than that.

Our representatives make the laws that dictate what happens to children who are removed from their homes. Our tax dollars are used to execute those laws. And investments in programs like Bridging the Gap ensure that we can support these young people and give them a fresh start.

So, what can we do to ensure that they are supported in defining and achieving their dreams?

This is a question for all of us: nonprofits, educators, businesses, and government. Perhaps most of all, it’s a question for individuals like you.

Change is hard, but it is possible. It will take thoughtful and collaborative conversations. We’ll have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, and with facing difficult truths. But if we make this a priority, we can begin to change the system that currently sees only 23% of Colorado foster youth graduating high school on time. We can chip away at a status quo that permits the average child who spends even one day in foster care during her high school years to change high schools three times.

This year, we were proud to work on some meaningful steps toward change at our State Capitol. House Bill 1306 provides overdue resources to support educational stability for children in care. And of course, when the time came for legislators to hear testimony, our Bridging the Gap youth were right there to share their truth.

But these youth can’t keep carrying this alone. We need people like you, individuals, families, businesses and the government to fight for individuals and families in our community, and we need institutions like The Denver Post to shed light on these issues our community faces and give our community a call to action.

You can lift a piece of the burden off those who have already had to endure more than most of us can fathom. If we each take a piece, we can carry it all.

Advocate for legislation that provides vital resources to support youth in and exiting care. Become a mentor. Consider becoming a foster parent yourself. In Colorado, we need 1,200 more foster families in the next two years. Connect with your local Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program. Come talk to us at Mile High United Way. Failing any of that, invest in the organizations who do this work across our region and our state.