Pouring into Our At-Risk Youth
As Americans, it’s our responsibility to make sure that the country we pass down to future generations is significantly better than the one we inherited from our parents. Young people are the future of our nation, and every day we have the incredible opportunity to invest in them. In the past, I’ve thanked our many community partners in the state of Arkansas for contributing to the future success of our community’s youth, but today I’d like to focus on an issue that not only affects young people where they are now, but has and will have a lasting effect on the lives of those citizens well into adulthood.
The work we do to improve outcomes for vulnerable youth is critically important to the development of a productive society. I’ve reviewed a number of cases and incidents involving young people across this nation and their run-ins with law enforcement, and the facts of these cases really resonated with me. Young people across our nation are having their lives ruined because of the mistakes they made or adverse circumstances in their early youth - some even as young as thirteen years old. A lot of these youth have become homeless, struggle with poor decision-making, or are in-and-out of the foster care system. Incredibly, each year in Arkansas, over200 foster youth age out of the foster system without a permanent family connection. A little under half of these youth will experience homelessness before their twenty-fifth birthdays.
I am particularly inspired by Shannon Boney (pictured above on the right), a survivor of the foster care system whom I got to know last Congress when she shadowed me on Capitol Hill. She had 40 placements over 11 years. Now 22 and a mom, Shannon gives back as the President of the Leadership Board at Immerse Arkansas. The work that Immerse Arkansas has accomplished in our state is noteworthy, and their dedication to this cause benefits all Arkansans by ensuring that the generations that come after us are well-equipped to take up the mantle of aspiration and leadership that we’ve laid before them.
In addition to their success, I’m also encouraged by the work of Deliver Hope, founded by Daniel Tyler. I’m pleased to highlight the work that the Tyler family has done for young people caught in emotional chaos and dangerous choices. Their mission, “to deliver the hope of Jesus Christ to at-risk and under-served young people no matter the circumstance,” demonstrates a model of community engagement that I believe can inspire and change the lives of many individuals across the central Arkansas region. Their vision to provide resources for holistic growth and mentoring relationships to at-risk youth is indicative of the kind of transformative leadership our community deserves.
The link between juvenile sentencing and foster care is unmistakable: the fastest-growing population entering our prisons is young people aging out of the foster system. Young people across our state are not being afforded the opportunities to become productive members of society, and the systems that seek to prosecute and punish them often do not take into consideration the contextual challenges that came with their upbringing. While we work to encourage the judicial system to innovate alternatives to incarceration for young people, we must applaud the work that community partners like Immerse Arkansas and Deliver Hope have committed themselves to accomplishing.