For college seniors across the nation, graduation marks the end of years of hard work and a hopeful transition into the working world.
For college seniors across the nation, graduation marks the end of years of hard work and a hopeful transition into the working world. For those raised in the foster care system, it also means the triumph over nearly insurmountable odds.
Josh Griggs, a Portland State senior, is part of the 2 percent of former foster children to graduate college. On June 12, Griggs, who was bounced constantly between various foster homes in the Oregon-Washington area during his childhood, will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in social work.
Despite having been recently accepted into a master’s program at the University of Washington’s School of Social Work, Griggs’ former life as a foster child still plays a defining role in his identity.
Removed from his family at the age of six, Griggs lived with 11 different families and attended nine different schools before graduating high school in 2006. At one point, he was even placed back with relatives. However, that was only temporary.
“It’s obviously difficult to form relationships,” he said. “People raised in the foster system are often more cautious, more reserved. They usually have a lot in their background that is difficult to talk about.”
Though relationships with his peers often came and went and associations with his foster families rarely lasted, Griggs said he was inspired by the teachers he had at each of his schools who would always listen to him and help him through hard times.
“Education became my escape, it gave me hope,” he said. “I still always refer to my teachers as my guardian angels.”
While he found refuge from his problems through education, he represents the exception rather than the rule. According to Spark Action, a children’s advocacy group, only 50 percent of foster children earn a high school diploma, 6 percent attend college and only 2 percent earn a college degree. Though the statistics are disturbing, it is exactly what drove Griggs to advocate for disenfranchised youth.
In 2006, immediately after his high school graduation, he began working with
Foster-Club, a national resource center for foster children that acts as a hub of knowledge for both foster children and foster parents.
Later that year, as an incoming college freshman, Griggs began interning with All-Stars, a PSU partnership program.
“With All-Stars, we taught kids how to advocate for themselves,” he said. “We hoped to give them the tools they needed to achieve.”
While attending PSU, he continued to work with Foster-Club, as well as travel around the country speaking with foster students.
With his knowledge and experience, Griggs helped found the Oregon Foster Youth Connection, an advisory board utilizing activism and leadership in order to reform the child welfare system in Oregon.
Still, having already beaten the odds, his ambitions are even loftier.
“My goal is to one day be a U.S. senator,” Griggs said. “That’s where you really get an opportunity to enact change.” ?