Saturday, April 22, 2006

Risks for Teens Aging Out of Foster Care

Few parents cut ties immediately and irrevocably the moment that their child comes of age. But once a foster child reaches the age of 18, the system is no longer obligated to provide for them. Foster alumni emerge from foster care vulnerable and unprepared, often with no safety net. There is no nest for them to return to.

1.) Homelessness rate of foster alumni
20 times the national average
According to a study from the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, in the first year after leaving foster care, one in four youths will end up homeless for a night. I remember that feeling; knowing that failure wasn't an option for me. If I failed, I would be homeless. (And, for two weeks, I was).

2.) Public assistance rate of foster alumni
3 times the national average.
Foster children are at risk for unemployment. They often find themselves disconnected from the worlds of work and education. Has anyone taken the time to teach them real-world budgeting skills?

Speaking personally, I never had trouble getting a job, but my husband could tell you I'm not a great budgeter. When he first met me, I had a lot of credit card debt. Since then, he's taught me how to be financially responsible. All our credit card debt is paid off, and there's just my student loan and the house payment to worry about...

3.) Incarceration rate of foster alumni
4 times the national average.

I've never personally experienced incarceration, but when I search through the criminal records database and look up other foster children whom I grew up with (in group homes), I tend to see a lot of familiar names. My "first crush" from a co-ed group home has a domestic violence record, for example...

Housing programs in Columbus & Cincinnati
Thinking about Maslow's hierarchy of needs, the place to start when it comes to foster alumni is: "Do they have a safe place to live?"

Lighthouse Youth Services in Cincinnati has created a tiered housing program, which allows for risk-taking and failure. A former foster child is given his / her own apartment. If he or she handles it responsibly, great. If not, more structured and supervised housing is available as a second alternative.

Young Adult Community Development in Columbus has created a housing steering committee, in order to use some of the great initiatives of Lighthouse Youth Services for Columbus foster alumni.

I met with Bob Mecum and Mark Kroner, the founders of Lighthouse Youth Services, and was impressed by their dedication and sincerity. I am currently partnering with Gayle Loyola, of Young Adult Community Development, to lead workshops and some other iniatives. It's exciting to have the opportunity to support her efforts in any way that I can.

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i would love to haer your story and help in any way. doing child welfare is HARD--but seeing at least one success gives me hope. in illinois, foster kids dont automatically age out at 18--which--considering how bad illinois foster care is--is kinda cool. the state can retain guardianship until the 21st birthday--we dont sign consents or whatever after 18, but we have youth in transition programs that offer assistance to this age.
Thanks for finding me and restoring my hope! i hope to hear from you soon!
The foster kids here in Texas don't automatically age out, either. There are several programs that they can take from up until about age 22.
It's good that so many positive changes have been made in assistance in "aging out" of foster care since the 80's.

When I aged out of foster care, I knew that I could to make it. Had to make it. I'd be homeless otherwise.

There wasn't a program in place that I could turn to... I just needed to do it myself. And, at first, I made lots of mistakes.

My biggest mistake was letting my roommate from the group home come and live with me. Wow - did that cost me...

I will call her "T."

"T" had been abandoned by her mother when she was just a baby. I honestly, in my heart, think that something happened at that point that short-circuited the development of T's conscience. Because, she didn't have one.

She stole from me. Constantly. I paid for the apartments, and she wouldn't pay even a portion of rent.

And yet I felt compelled to take care of her. "Why?", you might say.

Well, I wouldn't make that choice now. I'm a mature adult now, and we tend to set boundaries about the people who leech off of us.

But, when you are 17 years old and just one year out of a foster group home, and you think you might be able to help someone else... Well, it just might appeal to you.

I was young at the time. I was idealistic. I thought I could both save myself and help her - at the same time.

As it turns out, I saved myself, but I couldn't save T.

She robbed me blind until I cut ties with her. She chose the worst possible lifestyle. She became addicted to cocaine.

After I cut ties with T, she started stripping to pay for the drugs. She had three more children, who are now in the foster care system. She was murdered.

And I couldn't help her.

I think I came too late. T needed someone to help her when she was just an infant child, abandoned in a carseat by a prostitute mother.

"T" needed to learn attachment as a baby -- it was too late to try to teach her to have a conscience and loyalty as an adult.

And so... I couldn't help T. Couldn't save her from herself.

But, there are more T's out there. They are being born everyday. They didn't ask to be born into a dysfunctional family.

I'm committed to helping in whatever way I can. For some kids, it will work. For others, it won't. All I can do is be willing and give it my best.
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