Bryant was shot by police outside of her foster home

The National Foster Youth Institute joins the Columbus, OH community in mourning Ma’Khia Bryant and calls for an investigation and public report into how the 16-year-old was shot and killed by police on Tuesday. Ma’Khia was in foster care and had reportedly called 911 because she felt she was in danger in the home in which she was staying.

“In the coming days, we’ll learn more about what happened to Ma’Khia, but the fact remains that children in foster care, especially Black children, are often over-punished, over-policed, and over-criminalized,” said Rebecca Louve Yao, executive director of the National Foster Youth Institute. “Ma’Khia’s death is a tragedy — every child’s death is — and her story deserves to be told. We need to know what Ma’Khia was experiencing in foster care, what brought police to the home that day, and what led to the altercation that ended with Ma’Khia being shot by an officer. And we need a national conversation on how we treat foster youth and who is equipped to respond to their unique needs.”

Current and former foster youth are disproportionately likely to have involvement with the criminal justice system before reaching their mid-20s. The reasons are complex. People of color are unjustly over-policed, resulting in an overrepresentation of children of color in both foster care and the criminal justice system.

For a typical adolescent, boundary-testing behavior or “acting out” may result in grounding; for a teen in a group home or foster care, the police are often called in for the same sort of behavior — an unnecessary escalation that leads to additional contact with the criminal justice system. Similarly, police may be called upon to deal with a child struggling with a mental health issue and officers may not have the training to handle the situation appropriately.

Children in the child welfare system have almost certainly experienced trauma — removal from one’s home is traumatic, no matter how it’s handled. One in four youth in foster care will experience symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms. And former foster youth are twice as likely as war veterans to experience PTSD symptoms in adulthood.

When children are placed into foster care, the government and community take responsibility for those children’s safety and well-being. Their lives depend on all of us ensuring that they receive appropriate treatment and support from individuals trained to meet their needs with empathy, dignity, and respect.