Thursday, June 01, 2006

In My Shoes: Assisting Teenagers in Foster Care

Another participant in the FCAA Summit was Christa Drake. She has been part of the alumni movement since 1999, when she was the first former foster child to participate in the Casey Family Programs' community resource council.

In My Shoes
In July 2003, Christa assisted in launching "In My Shoes," the first foster care alumni project in Arizona. This nonprofit organization was created to help foster teenagers (16 and17 years old) successfully transition to adulthood.

Youth in care are matched with foster alumni, who assist them in attaining the skills and information that they need in order to live independently. Participants are empowered to advocate and become leaders within their communities.

To find out more about "In My Shoes," please visit:
http://www.inmyshoesinc.org/

Stones in the Road
Christa Drake is very passionate about her work. From talking with her on a personal level, I was able to ascertain that she has faced concerns and obstacles along the way...

Some of these challenges have included:
-Liability for foster youth behavior when she is transporting them from one location to another. Teenagers in general are prone to risktaking behavior, and foster teens no less so. Christa is very conscientious about this, since one error in judgement could jeopardize the program.

-Feeling that her presence as a foster alumni is desired at meetings, but that her voice is not always welcome.

As I mentioned in a previous post, the credo of foster alumni is "Nothing About Us, Without Us." Including foster alumni in discussions means more than just having them present when decisions are made.

Foster alumni are not "mascots" to represent the existence of foster children. Rather, we are insightful individuals, whose experiences and knowledge can be valuable to social workers, judges, attorneys, educators and behavioral health clinicians.

Talking with Christa affirmed some of the challenges that I have been facing in my state. When I meet with social services representatives, too often I hear the sunshine story:

-"We have no problems finding homes for foster children. Most of our children end up in kinship care."
-"Our foster teenagers are equipped with independent living skills before leaving care."
-"Our social workers are doing a wonderful job."

Yet, when I meet with actual foster parents and communicate with youth-in-care, I hear a different story:

-"My foster son has had five different social workers within the past five months. When the last social worker came to talk with us, he freaked out - because he thought this new stranger was coming to take him away."

-"Our neice was sent to a foster home out of state, rather than allowing her to be adopted by family."

-"We have over 30 teenagers in our school who are getting ready to age out of foster care, and they are unprepared - and scared."

I work at a job myself. I know what it means to "toe the party line." However, because the lives of children are at stake, I am going to have to insist upon hearing more honesty.

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Comments:
Wow- what a fabulous resource you're making here. As my partner and I move toward becoming foster parents, I appreciate all the information we've received and have been trying to absorb about this enormous job, but lived experiences are hard to find. Especially from the perspective of the kids (and adults who were in foster care as children). We'll definitely be back here often! Thanks! -Kate (and J)-
 
Hi Lisa, thanks for stopping by my blog. Your site is WONDERFUL. I'll pass the alumni information along.
 
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