Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Transition from Foster Care to Adulthood

Transition to Adulthood for A Child With Loving, Supportive Parents

All I Want for Christmas is a Better System of Support for Emancipated Foster Youth

When former foster youth return for help to the agencies that formerly served "in loco parentis," they aren't treated like college students coming home for the holidays, or the way we might treat our young adult children coming home for help. The only door for them to access services is the same door that their biological parents might have chosen - the same door that any adult "in need of services" might choose: To open a FINS case. 

FINS is agency-speak; the initials stand for "Family In Need of Services." Being a former foster child doesn't make a positive difference. It doesn't mean that the agency feels any extra responsibility for them. If anything, it can work against them, because their past mistakes during their teenage years are still on their file.

There doesn't tend to be a lot of "hand-holding" or support during the process, despite the fact that mentorship, guidance and someone sitting by their side is exactly what these young people need the most.

For a recently emancipated foster youth, having someone who cares about you sit beside you while you wait in a dehumanizing waiting room would contribute greatly towards:

  • feeling reassured that you are doing the right thing and waiting in the right place
  • having their maturity to balance out your anxiety and lack of adult experience
  • feeling less ALONE
Throughout the nation, this is a problem:

  • Foster youth go from the restrictive experience of foster care to the total freedom of adulthood, and experience magnified consequences whenever they make a misstep. 
  • During their time in care, they don't get to experience normal teen experiences like spending the night at a friend's house. 
  • They often don't have their own bank account, and don't get opportunities to handle money. 
  • But after that magical day when they "age out," they are expected to know how to navigate complex systems, emotional relationships, financial challenges, etc. 
If and when they struggle, they can open a FINS case. But this doesn't mean extra parenting. Nope, it means having a case plan, being expected to make and keep appointments, and if they struggle with that, it is written in their file that they are "not complying with their case plan" -- which can be cause for termination of services.

Community volunteers could help by:

  • Serving as a mentor to one or two emancipated foster youth
  • Being willing to accompany young people to appointments and/or assist with transportation
  • Phone calls and meetings with a young person to talk through next steps in their lives
  • Celebrating their accomplishments and encouraging them during moments of discouragement
  • Believing in them and their ability to succeed

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

One of My Favorite Classic Novels

You might have heard of the movie "Daddy Long Legs" based on the book by Jean Webster. An orphan is supported through college by a wealthy benefactor.... played by Leslie Caron and Fred Astaire.

But what many people don't know is that there was a sequel, called Dear Enemy --- in which the former orphan, now rich and married, enlists her best friend from college to go back to the orphanage and reform it.

The protagonist of "Dear Enemy" does just that - despite obstacles and discouragements -- including a curmudgeonly doctor who is the "Enemy" referenced in the title.

What's amazing about the book is that, despite the fact that it was published in 1915, the reforms that the protagonist makes within the orphanage are surprisingly modern -- and very well thought out. Sallie McBride is an incredibly likable character -- and you get the sense that the author is someone that, if you and I were living in 1915, we would want to have a cup of coffee with and chat about adoption and foster care reform.

The book is available for free on Project Gutenberg, and you can likely find a republished copy on

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Developing Your Vision While Attending College

The American Indian College Fund and the National Endowment for Financial Education co-published a series of four handbooks on Developing Your Vision While Attending College.
Although not developed specifically for the foster care alumni population, a lot of this information might be helpful to foster care youth and alumni...

Book Four: "Choosing Your Path"

Table of Contents
1. Preparing for Transition
2. From Community College to Four-Year College
3. Making Sure Your Credits Transfer
4. Applying for Financial Aid And Considering Loans
5. Choosing Graduate School
6. Getting Ready for The Workplace
7. Job Hunting in Tough Times
8. Giving Back        

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Homelessness After Foster Care

I recently read a report that did an excellent job of outlining the current lack of accuracy and effectiveness in measuring homeless youth in general -- and downright inadequacy in terms of finding out if they have a history of foster care. And definitely not if they are "couch-surfing, rather than checking in at homeless shelter.

The publication is called:  Hidden in Plain Sight: Counting California's Unsheltered Homeless Population:

How the Federal Government Counts Homelessness:
Homeless programs that receive federal funding must do a biennial Point-in-Time count of the number of homeless people in their communities. HUD is now requiring that this count include unsheltered, unaccompanied minors as a separate subgroup.

Historical Oversight of Homeless Youth and Young Adults:
Quoting from the report referenced above:

  • "Homeless youth are a hidden population that has historically been undercounted in local, state, and federal efforts to enumerate the homeless population. 
  • In recent years, researchers and advocates have emphasized the importance of considering the needs of homeless youth as a distinct sub-population of the homeless population overall. 
  • A clear recognition has emerged that improvements to the wellbeing of homeless youth in the US must be informed by accurate data regarding the prevalence and composition of the homeless youth population (U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, 2012a).
Limitations of the Point-in-Time Count
This is only a head-count at shelters.  It completely misses youth who are "couch-surfing."

The Hidden in Plain Sight report recognizes this reality and specifically refers to:

  • "Missing sub-groups of youth, including couch surfers; hotel- and motel-based homeless youth; campers; youth of color; youth who do not self-identify as homeless; homeless students; and juvenile justice or child welfare service-involved youth."
It's important to recognize the significant known barriers and challenges to counting youth:

  • Homeless youth are a hidden population that is hard to locate and identify
  • Youth are known to avoid services, particularly services intended for homeless adults
  • Stigma may affect the degree to which youth identify as homeless
  • Youth homelessness differs from adult homelessness in that it is often intermittent
Despite considerable advances in methods for counting homeless adults in the last 20 years, there has been less focus on how to improve the methods for counting youth.

Recommendations to address these challenges, including the following:

  • Create a better count definition of youth homelessness that is more workable on the ground 
  • Look for more effective ways to capture homeless youth counts
If methods can be developed that can accurately count homeless youth and be feasibly replicated over time, this would allow local, state, and federal stakeholders to inform social policy when it comes to funding streams for this extremely vulnerable population.

Can't be  full-time student

Monday, April 01, 2013

Two of My Favorite Artists

Two of my favorite artists incorporate collage and mixed media into their work...

Jonathan Darby is an artist from the UK whose artwork deals with themes of socio-political and humanitarian issues. His work portrays people in a cultural context where innocence and the vulnerable have been impacted by forces of social, economic and political change.

Example of Jonathan Darby's artwork
His focus is on children as he believes they can and will determine the future. The experiences they encounter now may have severe consequences for them and for society as a whole.

Jonathan Darby at work on an art project

French illustrator Stephanie Ledoux is a traveling artist, who began keeping traveling diaries when she was 13 years old. Today, she has more than 60 travel diaries, which she uses as inspiration for larger paintings when she is in her home studio in Toulouse.

Some of Stephanie's work on display
She gets to know local residents by drawing them, and incorporates local newspapers, old school books, locally made paper into her collage portraits.

Example of Stephanie Ledoux's artwork

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Foster Focus Magazine asks: What was foster care like for you?

Kudos to Chris Chmielewski of Foster Focus Magazine for inviting foster care youth and alumni throughout the nation to share what foster care was like for them... Here's my entry:

Three Days On the Hill for Foster Care Youth and Alumni

The Ohio chapter of Foster Care Alumni of America was honored to serve as lead facilitator, and one of the sponsors of Three Days on the Hill for Foster Care Youth and Alumni.


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Aging Out: Things People Never Told Me

Things People Never Told Me is a publication created by the Better Futures Project.

The authors of this publication interviewed a group of young adults who either had navigated or were in the process of navigating that transition in order to gain insight into important life areas such as finances, employment, healthcare, transportation, and relationships, among others.

Their hope that by learning from their experiences as well as their suggestions, youth leaving foster care will be better equipped with the necessary tools to become independent and successful adults.

I particularly like the section, "Myths, Stereotypes and the Truth," which includes the following quotes...
And graduate school and doctorate degrees...