Black Children in the U.S. Foster Care System More than 500,000 children are in the U.S. foster care system, and African-American kids make up nearly 40 percent of that number. Two former foster children, clothing entrepreneur Tony Shellman and actress Victoria Rowell, discuss the promise and problems of foster care at the start of National Foster Care Month.
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Black Children in the U.S. Foster Care System

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Black Children in the U.S. Foster Care System

Black Children in the U.S. Foster Care System

Black Children in the U.S. Foster Care System

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More than 500,000 children are in the U.S. foster care system, and African-American kids make up nearly 40 percent of that number. Two former foster children, clothing entrepreneur Tony Shellman and actress Victoria Rowell, discuss the promise and problems of foster care at the start of National Foster Care Month.

ED GORDON, host:

I'm Ed Gordon. This is NEWS & NOTES.

There are over half a million children in the foster care system in the United States, and African-Americans make up nearly 40 percent of that number. The system is overloaded and often fails many of the children it was created to serve. May is National Foster Care Month and two former foster children are using the month to bring attention to the system. Tony Shellman is co-founder of the Mecca and Enyce clothing lines, and actress Victoria Rowell is a longtime advocate who heads up the Rowell Foster Children's Positive Plan. I asked her about the promise and problems of the foster care system.

Ms. VICTORIA ROWELL (Actress): Well, the biggest issue is that the children are warehoused because we only have 135,000 foster parents for over half a million children. Do the math and we realize that these children have to be living somewhere, and they're warehoused in group homes, some of which are very good and some of which are not. And unfortunately, the media tends to want to sell the newspapers and the magazines, and so we hear a lot about the poor care, but there's tremendous care out here. But it is a big, big problem, and there's a huge push, and has been, to advocate for foster parents and potential foster parents to come forward--It's a nine-week training program--and to help us out here with these children.

GORDON: Tony, with being sensitive to the entire situation and the entire picture, how much do you believe that we have to educate our community that won't even necessarily reach the point where these kids have to look to foster care? It seems to me that we are not looking internally enough to make sure that those who bring these kids into the world really look at their situation before they give them up.

Mr. TONY SHELLMAN (Clothing Entrepreneur): Well, you have to look around, and you have to start looking at the community and there's a lot of services like the Harlem Dowling family youth center service that's not just helping children in foster care but helping families, so kids don't have to go into foster care--developing parents. I mean, clearly, as we know today, you have babies raising babies. It's not necessarily like when we were growing up where you had--you know, it took a village to raise a child. Now we have to re-create that village, and that's what's going on.

I hope to create a movement. I hope we start creating a movement where we're not just helping the kids in foster care, but, you know, we're helping kids not go into foster care. There's going 20,000 kids that are gonna come out of foster care this year. They're gonna age out. What do you do with them? They're 18. Come on, Ed. When you were 18, what did you do? You were still calling home if you were even thinking about going to college. We were all calling home. But you know what?

GORDON: Yeah, I'm 44. I'm still calling home.

Mr. SHELLMAN: Yeah. But that village is there. If you know, if I know--let's just say Mrs. Johnson lives down the street and the things that she said to me come back in mind, you know, just being there, being a mentor, is gonna help; so to kind of answer your questions, it's about developing families, but it's about developing a movement and a system with not just family members but people that can come into play like a mentor that can say, `Hey, I don't have to be next to you every day, but, by the way, you can give me a call when you want to even think about registering for college,' and so on and so forth, you know?

GORDON: Victoria, hasn't that been part of your movement, the idea of stressing a community?

Ms. ROWELL: As you know, I have a charity, the Rowell Foster Children's Positive Plan, and a big part of that push is what Tony's talking about, which is the mentoring, which is trying to keep family within family, which is to support the grandparents, which is another pandemic in this country, where we have grandparents raising a second generation, spending Social Security on diapers and formula, dying of hypertension because they're not spending the money on their medication. And of course, Senator Clinton and Senator Mary Landrieu and many other politicos are trying to bring change and support for these grandparents who are adopting their grandchildren. They would rather die than see a second generation going into foster care. And it's a tremendous commitment to take on a child, either as a foster parent or an adoptive parent, and we don't walk off into the sunset together. There needs to be continued tutelage. There has to be continued therapy...

GORDON: Right.

Ms. ROWELL: ...because there's a lot of situations that have to be addressed. But there's respite care which is giving respite to adoptive or foster parents for a weekend, for a week, for two weeks, and that gives the respite care giver an opportunity to evaluate whether or not they want to take on a commitment of further care. At the same time, they help the community by giving this very brave foster parent a rest. There's no way that a foster parent, even an adoptive parent, can survive in a silo.

GORDON: It's truly more than a notion. Let me ask you before we let you guys go, Victoria, you have an event coming up in May in Los Angeles, and we should note this month is, in fact, National Foster Care Month.

Ms. ROWELL: On this particular day, we have Mr. Branford Marsalis gracing our stage, and we have Misty Copeland of American Ballet Theatre, the only black female ballet dancer with ABT, my alma mater, and this is to raise awareness and money to send foster and adopted youth to college.

Mr. SHELLMAN: So, you know, hit the Web site, man, www.fostercaremonth.org.

GORDON: Victoria Rowell and Tony Shellman, thank you so very much for joining us today.

Ms. ROWELL: You bet.

Mr. SHELLMAN: Thank you.

Ms. ROWELL: Thanks, Ed.

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