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Church hopes to match kids with foster families

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WAYNESBORO — Sonya Payne remembers her best birthday ever.

It was in 2010, the day she legally adopted her foster daughter Ariel Simone Payne, 16.

Ariel wasn’t the first child that Payne has fostered. In fact, Payne estimates that she’s legally fostered 40 children since 1993, and taken in over 70, even if only temporarily.

“That’s why we call her superwoman,” said Ariel’s adoptive sister Taimonique Payne, 15 and a half years old.

Payne decided to become a foster parent while working with battered women, and seeing the effect it had on both the women and children.

“It was too much,” Payne said. “I told my husband, we have to do something to help these kids.”

She read about her first foster child in the newspaper in 1993 and the rest is history.

Even with families like the Paynes, there are still local children in the foster care system that do not currently have homes and are at risk of aging out of the system, which severely affects their chances of success once they become adults, said Jennifer Eccles, foster parent and member of the mission team at First Baptist Church in Waynesboro. There are 163 kids in foster homes locally, but 14 that don’t have somewhere to call home.

That’s why the church decided to hold a summit about foster care, with a panel of foster care workers, parents and adopted teenagers, to inform the community about the need for more participation in the foster care system.

The summit was Sunday afternoon and about 25 people attended, Eccles said.

“The church feels very strongly that we have a calling to help these kids in our community,” said the mom of six. “They need families.”

One of the main focuses of the summit was on the need for care for older children and children with siblings, specifically, Eccles said. Removing the stigma that older children come with more problems is key.

“This is not about bad behavior,” Eccles said of why children end up in the foster care system. “It’s because of abuse or neglect.”

Both Ariel and Taimonique spoke about being adopted and what they would tell other foster parents if they could.

“Never give up on your adopted kids,” Taimonique said. They may have difficult behavior and difficulty adjusting, but never to give up.

For more information about foster parenting call Jennifer Edson or Heather Hudnall at Shenandoah Valley Social Services at 540-245-5800.

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Fostering A Better Future

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Family of Foster Care Kids Need Love Too, Vicki and Brian Bolick adopted a 7-year-old girl this year after first serving as her foster parents. For this article, they chose to keep her identity private.
Family of Foster Care Kids Need Love Too, Vicki and Brian Bolick adopted a 7-year-old girl this year after first serving as her foster parents. For this article, they chose to keep her identity private.

 

Brian Bolick had his arms wrapped around his 7-year-old daughter, playfully hugging her captive.

“What’s the magic word?” he asked.

She wiggled a bit before yelling “please,” but he only hugged her closer.

“It’s peanut butter,” Bolick exclaimed, as he opened his arms and the giggling little girl went running.

From watching them, it’s unlikely anyone would guess they aren’t biologically related.

What not even the Bolicks would have guessed, though, is the path that brought the family together.

Brian Bolick and his wife, Vicki, had been hoping to adopt an older child for years but didn’t know where to start.

“It’s a weird chain of events that got us to where we are,” he said. “To me, it was kind of fated in a way.”

It began when Bolick signed up in 2009 for Leadership Forsyth, an educational program that helps community members learn how to get involved.

Each year’s class selects a service project, and Bolick recalled hearing from many nonprofits with suggestions.

He felt a personal call to help when listening to the executive director of a then-emerging organization called Supporting Adoption and Foster Families Together, or SAFFT.

“I remember Ashley [Anderson] up there making her presentation,” he said, “and just me thinking, well this is exactly what we’ve been talking about. There’s no excuses. Here’s a way.”

They had planned on having a child naturally, Vicki Bolick said, “but it just never happened.”

Feeling happy as a family, but not whole, the couple had floated the topic of adoption for years. It wasn’t until hearing Anderson speak that they really began the process.

Brian Bolick decided to get involved with SAFFT even if the group didn’t select that project, but apparently others were as moved as he was with the organization’s work.

The class voted to renovate a home to create a safe visitation center for families. When the project was complete, Brian Bolick continued his work with SAFFT by joining the nonprofit’s board.

The couple had learned a lot about adoption through volunteer work with SAFFT and the friendships they formed. But even so, they had little success at first working with a private agency.

“We had more resources at our disposal than I would say the average person, and yet it was still very difficult,” he said. “Months and months would go by, and we would never hear from them about any children. We couldn’t understand it.”

What they eventually learned was that the path to adopt a newborn baby and an older child isn’t the same.

Older children are in foster care, and are typically reunified with a biological family member or adopted by their foster parents.

“If you want to adopt an older child, you pretty much need to be a foster parent,” Brian Bolick said.

Anderson, SAFFT director, suggested they work through the Department of Family and Children Services, or DFCS, instead of the private agency.

“Why don’t you guys just foster,” Anderson recalled saying, “and if a child is meant to be, it will happen.”

They started as a respite foster family, or one that is approved to care for a child when the primary foster parent cannot or needs a break.

In spring 2012, the Bolicks first began to spend time with the girl who would eventually become their daughter, whose identity they chose to keep private for this article.

They were about to leave for a cruise that April when they received a call from DFCS asking if they could take the girl for a week while her foster parent was out of town.

They canceled the trip.

“We knew that we were a possibility for her, and we loved her so much,” Brian Bolick said.

The couple got to spend more time with the girl. By June, they were approved as her foster parents.

Vicki Bolick said the months afterward were an emotional wait, wondering if the adoption would happen or if someone would come forward for her.

“You just don’t know,” she said. “So we took a chance because we felt like even if it didn’t work out, at least we would have made an impact and otherwise we were always better because of her.”

In March, the wait was over. They became a family.

There’s no doubt in their minds that they were “just meant to be,” Vicki Bolick said.

The years of waiting and of confusion hadn’t been without reason.

“It never felt right until we met her, and then I just knew,” she said. “I remember the first time I saw her. It was at the SAFFT Christmas event.

“We were just looking over at the playground and she was playing. I didn’t even really know much about her story, but I remember just looking over and I told Brian, ‘That’s going to be our child someday.’”

The Bolicks have continued their involvement with SAFFT — only there are three of them now.

The organization recently moved into its new, larger building on Castleberry Road, and Vicki Bolick lent her interior design talents — with the help of her daughter — to make the place a welcome one for children, the one their girl remembers.

The two are also willing to share their story, in hopes that others thinking of fostering or adopting can learn something about the difficult but rewarding journey.

Foster care, they found, still has a stigma. Some people would question why they were doing it.

Brian Bolick said he also thought people didn’t understand the true benefits of adoption and fostering.

“People say, ‘Oh, that’s a great thing you guys are doing,’” he said. “It’s really, we’ve gotten a lot more out of it.”

As Vicki Bolick recalled, Forsyth County Juvenile Court Judge Russell Jackson told them early on in the process that they didn’t need “a child,” but “the child.”

And they found her, she said.

“I always felt she was born in my heart.”

Our organization has the best interest of foster kids of this nation

Foster Care Kids Need Love Too

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Foster Kids Need Love Too® is an organization that has the best interest of foster kids of this nation at their heart. As a nation we obsess over the bringing up of our children. We make sure to provide them with the best quality of education for their mental growth; we provide the best food to our children to give them a healthy lifestyle; we provide them with the best medical facilities; and all this very rightly so, they are our children after all who will take the mantel of running this nation tomorrow, all this is their right and all of this will be provided by any parent worth their salt.
But take a moment here and consider those children who are the same age as your very own kids. Unfortunately for them there is no way to get all the best treatment in the world because they do not have any family that takes care of them and because they are all alone on this planet.
Think of the consequences for such a child. Lost in the world, they could end up on the wrong paths of criminality or abuse. If they make to a mature age, with their past marred with trouble and nothing good, they could end up in a lifelong destructing cycle of crime, of substance abuse and even of violence.
Think for a moment that just because they did not have a person in their life to guide them, these young minds which could have been put to great use of the civilization have gone rotten at the cruel hands of the unforgiving society.
That kid could have been you.
If not for that person who was there for you when you needed them the most; the person who listened to you and gave you a hand when you found yourself seeking a way out of a mess. At Foster Kids Need Love Too® we want to be that family for the unfortunate and underprivileged kids of our nation who are out there as we speak trying to navigate through the adversities of life, in need of person to look up to. We love foster kids and we want them to be our family. We want them to be a part of the bright future of our nation and we are determined in our quest to provide such children with food, care, education and above all, love.
Foster Kids Need Love Too® can only achieve this with your help. You can impart a child with a once in a life time fighting chance to turn their life around for better. Don’t you want to be the person to change a child’s future for the good? Don’t you want to be the person to hold the hand of one young child that may not be your own but will reply to your generosity with the impartial love of a child?
Foster Kids Need Love Too® will continue down this path of empathy and love and with your help we can keep on ‘Drawing Success’

Please send your monetary donations by clicking this URL link for Foster Care Kids Need Love Too https://www.wepay.com/donations/fostercarekidsneedlovetoo Thank you an god bless!

DC Pastor Couple Mobilizes City Churches to Fill In Foster Care Gap

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A couple who co-founded a church in Washington, D.C. has brought their passion for providing for kids in need of a home and family to the nation’s capital, where over 3,000 kids are either in or on their way to the foster care system.
Aaron and Amy Graham while establishing the District Church learned about their new community and were convicted to share their fostering passion with their congregation. DC127, the initiative heading up this coordinated effort, aims to mobilize Washington’s dozens of churches to replace the current foster care waiting list with one full of families in line to receive.
“It’s surprising how many people there are that are committed to children welfare but how professionalized it has become,” said Aaron to The Christian Post on Monday. “There are incredible agencies and social workers… but the church has largely been absent.”
The Grahams found themselves accidental foster parents several years ago when they were co-pastoring the Quincy Street Missional Church in Dorchester, Mass. The couple devoted much of their time to the neighborhood’s youth.
“One of the youth that was 16 asked if he could stay with us for a couple of nights,” said Aaron. “We ended up fostering him for the entire summer.”
This interest in fostering and adoption, in combination with Amy’s Master’s degree and work experience in social work and Aaron’s community organizing background, led them several years later to adopt two children of their own.

Now years later after their first foster care experience, the Grahams have mobilized D.C. churches with the goal of “uniting to reverse the foster care wait list in Washington, D.C.”

Still in its beginning stages, the initiative in May brought Chelsea Geyer on board as the project coordinator to begin building partnerships with existing stakeholders. Greyer has spent much of her time meeting with government agencies like D.C.’s Child and Family Services, as well as other foster care NGO that have tackled these problems for years.

“What [DC127] didn’t want to do is recreate the wheel,” said Geyer. “We want to figure out how we can complement what is already being done.”

The organization took its name, DC127, from groups in Arizona and Colorado that shared similar foster care visions and James 1:27, which reads, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

While The District Church is fully on board with the DC127 initiative, the reality is that many of its roughly 300 attendees are transient twenty-something professionals – a population with a limited tradition of working in its community

Nikki Heidenreich, who has been attended the church for several months, understands this phenomenon well. “The tone of our church has been to challenge us in the short time we’re here and to say, ‘don’t be here and not invest in it,'” said Heidenreich. “Still, so many are striving in the city for themselves and their own ambition. D.C. is a means to an end and the problems of the people and their families who have lived here just get swept under the rug.”

The District Church sees aligning these 20-somethings with churches that have more couples, families or individuals with capacities to serve specifically as foster parents as key to sustainably tackling the foster care problem, through prayer gatherings, workshops, education and trainings.

“We don’t want people to just sign-up and think that this cause is just a cool-thing, without realizing how difficult it really is to foster and adopt or do the millennial thing – get distracted by the next thing,” said Aaron. “We’re really trying to educate people on how important it is to support families that are fostering or adopting. We need people that will pray, cook meals and babysit.”

Aaron also acknowledges the necessity the importance of DC127 leading frank and honest conversations about the impact race will have on their work.

“Anyone who is a student of D.C. culture knows that race underlies every conversation,” he said. “We want to help those who are considering [foster care] if there are transracial aspects, so that they can make informed choices. Too often people assume that because race isn’t an issue for them, it won’t be an issue for their family. Unfortunately, there’s the reality of our world and many people still see things through the lens of race. We are committed to helping to educate.”

Heidenreich is appreciative and supportive of the hard work that her church is tackling.

“I am proud of my church,” said Heidenreich. “Some churches can over-extend themselves and not be effective. I think they’re really doing their homework. It’s a brave move. There’s simpler things they could

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La. foster care system to undergo new initiative

Louisiana unveils new 'Faith in Families' initiati...

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Lasting connections for foster children is one of the new goals for Louisiana’s Department of Children and Family Services, Secretary Suzy Sonnier said Thursday in Alexandria.

A new initiative the department is rolling out, called “Faith in Families,” looks to safely reduce the number of children in foster care, decrease the amount of time children spend in the system and ensure that each child has a permanent connection when they leave foster care, Sonnier said.

“Children deserve strong and loving families. This initiative will bring positive and life-changing impacts to children in our foster care system,” she said.

Last year more than 7,500 children were in the foster care program in Louisiana, according to DCFS statistics. About 3,710 were discharged from foster care during the year and about 3,180 children were placed in foster care in 2012. There are currently 4,031 children in foster care across the state.

Additionally, DCFS plans to work aggressively to improve permanent connections for youth on the verge of aging out of foster care.

DCFS, Sonnier said, “will work to identify family or other community members who can provide lasting relationships for young people ensuring that no children exit the foster care system without someone to call family.”

Research shows that children who age out of foster care without a permanent connection face significant challenges including homelessness, unemployment, mental health and substance abuse issues and involvement with the criminal justice system.

“Life-long connections are key to ensuring that these children have a place to live, stay in school and make positive decisions about their lives going forward,” Sonnier said.

The initiative sets the following goals to be met by 2015:

» Safely reduce the number of children in foster care by 1,000.

» 95 percent of all children returning home will not return to foster care.

» 85 percent of children will exit foster care within 24 months of entering — either through reunification with family or adoption.

» 50 percent of those in foster care will be adopted within 24 months, exceeding the national standard of 37 percent.

» 75.2 percent of children will be reunified with their family within 12 months, achieving the national standard.

» 85 percent of all children will exit foster care in a permanent placement — adoption, reunification, guardianship.

» All children exiting foster care will do so with permanent connections.

“DCFS’ over-arching focus is to keep children safe,” Sonnier said. “We will build partnerships with a variety of organizations that can assist us in accomplishing our mission, use existing best practices and tools and drive performance to continue to improve the way we provide services.”

The new initiative follows a record year for DCFS in adoptions. Last year, DCFS saw 652 children adopted by 468 families. Today, there are 638 children who are immediately eligible for adoption.

DCFS features profiles of foster children eligible for adoption on its website, www.dcfs.louisiana.gov.

Be Inspired with Raquel: Adoption is about love, not skin color

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Love is colorblind. This also is true for adoption.

While it is important for a child to know his history, that knowledge doesn’t translate into who he is or how he should govern his life. His history doesn’t define him; the love he receives does.

By choice, I don’t have children — but if I someday decide otherwise, I’m totally open to adopting a child outside of my race. I don’t believe there is anything such as “black love” or “white love” — there is just love. The same type of love God gives to us all regardless of skin color or ancestral past.

Over the past several years, I’ve seen more parents adopting babies and children of different races. I’ve seen it in everyday working folks as well as celebrities. The issue has prompted some discussion of whether it’s right or wrong for a white couple to adopt a black child; for an Asian child to be raised by a black family … or any combination of nationalities.

For me, it isn’t a question of right or wrong, but one that pertains to the well-being of that child. We don’t know the backstory of these children. We don’t know the alternatives they are confronted with in relation to orphanages, foster case or homelessness. What’s wrong with a family of a different nationality opening their home, arms and hearts to children that need love?

I am an American who happens to be of a certain ethnicity, but before any of that I am a human being, which bridges all gaps and connects us all to a common theme: God.

I don’t believe the question should be about whether a parent can successfully raise a child of a different race. Instead, the question should be about whether the parent can successfully love a child … period. Clearly, some of society is focused on a small piece to a very big puzzle.

Growing up in a family that shares some of your social and ethnic concerns is important. I understand the point made that a white mother can relate to the trials and tribulations facing a white child better than a mother of another nationality might. I can relate to the fact that a black child can better empathize with the black experience by way of parents who look like her and have a comparative story to share.

I understand these well-intended points. But, if you look at today’s teens and young adults, many of them are unaware of their heritage and historical backgrounds. Many of them are accepting of all nationalities and they see themselves as Americans — and this phenomenon is partly due to a big shift in our culture.

Actually, I think interracial adoptions could be a good thing for the children, because they are being reared from a different perspective, leaving behind some of the self-imposed limitations some races have passed from generation to generation.

If I were a child without parents, living with uncertainty and the odds stacked against me, I’d want someone to take me into their home and love me, feed me and grant me a somewhat normal childhood. I would want someone to give me an opportunity to attend school and become something great. It wouldn’t matter if that person was Chinese, Japanese, American or Sudanese.

As I previously mentioned, knowing our history and where we come from is important, but in order to even care about our background, we’ve got to be loved. Love helps us identify with groups, communities and the world, but that love must start within and most of us are able to get that process going by way of a loving parent, no matter her genetic makeup or skin color.

Many Homeless Adults Start their Journey in Foster Care

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Foster care placement is one of the childhood risk factors, which predicts adult homelessness. A mother with a childhood history of foster care is far more likely to become homeless than one who has never entered the foster care system.

Darlesha Joyner is one such mother who comprises more than 6,500 District residents without permanent homes.

“I’m tired and frustrated,” said Joyner, 22, who entered Maryland’s foster care system at 14 years old. Her 18-month-old son rested on her hip with his legs akimbo. “My issue is not only with living in the shelter but even before. I don’t want to be here.”

Since January, Joyner, a mother of two, has lived in the old D.C. General Hospital, which was repurposed as a family shelter in Southeast. Recent reports indicate it houses 284 families with nearly 600 children, more than half of them under the age of 12.

Joyner experienced a series of losses over a short time. At four years old, her mother died. Her father followed at seven. One grandmother died when she was 10 and another at 14. Since the age of seven, she was bounced around by family members, living from house to house, until she entered foster care, the native Washingtonian said.

“My family said I was hard headed,” said Joyner who has a learning disability. At 18, she emancipated herself by leaving the foster care system, got into domestic violence situations, lived in hallways and slept outdoors.

She joined several persons who testified at Ward 1 Council member Jim Graham’s public oversight hearing on D.C. General’s services and management onsite at the shelter on Feb. 28.

“These children are wards of the city and we have special responsibility for them,” said Graham, chair of the Committee on Human Services with oversight authority over D.C. General. “In the process, we become their parents, and we should anticipate their needs when they’re emancipated.”

One woman revealed she was a foster child from 2 to 21 years old, and now lives at D.C. General.

The D.C. Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA), the city’s child welfare agency, reported in 2008 that more than one-third of the youth leaving the system at 21 did so with “few or none of the supports and resources … to ensure sustainable independent living.”

This vexing national problem of foster care becoming a breeding ground for future homeless adults isn’t new.

The 1994 Green Book from the U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Ways and Means, reported that mid-1980s surveys indicated significant numbers of homeless shelter users were recently discharged from foster care. The book provides data under the committee’s jurisdiction.

Children “age out” of the system when they’re discharged from government care, between 18 and 21. As young adults, they’re forced into pseudo independence with little resources to assume adulthood.

Earlier this month, the D.C. Alliance of Youth Advocates (DCAYA), a coalition of youth-engaged organizations and residents found that 40 percent of D.C.’s homeless youth were in the foster care or juvenile justice systems.

“Young adults, under the best circumstances, don’t turn 18 or 21 years old and magically become rational, self-sufficient adults; and a history of trauma, abuse or neglect further impacts their social-emotional development,” said Maggie Riden, a DCAYA senior policy analyst at a council oversight hearing. “To achieve lasting stability, this population needs an array of supportive resources … not defined by age, but by scope of need.”

Young people in foster care leave placements due to conflicts, or they seek more familiar surroundings, Riden said.

But, to Ressurrection Graves, reasons for leaving are more ominous. She said national evidence-based studies maintained that 20 to 30 percent of children in foster care are sexually abused, which leads to early emancipation.

“Child sexual abuse has its own set of traumas, which are linked to adult homelessness,” said Graves, a child sexual abuse expert and survivor, and a homeless mother for three years. Due to her traumatic experiences Graves, who was raised in the D.C. area, will launch in August a nonprofit that offers alternative shelter solutions for those seeking transitional housing.

“The trauma of being removed from the home causes disruptions, and those build over time,” said Nicki Sanders, a Columbia, Md., social worker. “Children in foster care move on average about seven times. They have new schools, rules to follow, values, academic and social challenges. There’s instability in the life of a foster child on a consistent basis, in many cases.”

This cycle will probably continue for Joyner’s children. Her three-year-old daughter is in foster care.

“Our child and family welfare system continues to be a pipeline into homelessness and instability for hundreds of youth each year,” Riden added.

 

Troubling spike in foster children prompts budget shortfalls

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The number of children in foster care in Haywood County is on the rise, a depressing sign for Department of Social Services workers whose first goal is to keep a family together.

“Growing up in foster care or growing up in an institution is no way to grow up,” said Ira Dove, director of the county’s Department of Social Services. Dove presented his case to the Haywood County Board of Commissioners Monday, requesting additional money to pay for the increasing costs of running foster care.

 

The commissioners agreed to give DSS $342,113 to cover a budget shortfall between now and the end of the fiscal year in June brought on by increase in foster kids. The federal government will reimburse the county between 60 percent and 66 percent of that cost.

Despite efforts by the DSS to keep children in the same home as their parents, the number of children in foster care rose 53 percent during a 12 month period. There were 102 kids in foster care in October 2011, and by October last year, there were 156 kids in the program.

Part of the problem is children kept entering foster care last year quicker than they left.

“We didn’t move a lot of kids out of foster care last year,” Dove said.

The number has come back down, with 109 Haywood County children in foster care as of this week, but the spike caused DSS to burn through its budget allotment before the year was up.

Haywood County is not the only county in the state seeing such an increase. Jackson County’s foster care population doubled, and Swain saw similar increases to Haywood.

Dove said he could not name a single correlating cause of the statewide rise in foster children. It is usually a combination of factors, he said.

In most cases, the parents of foster care children have substance abuse and/or mental health problems. In more than 30 percent of cases, the child was physically and/or sexually abused. Nearly half of the time, there is a history of neglect and no stable housing.

Both Haywood County commissioners and Dove indicated that a rise in prescription drug abuse may have influenced the number of cases moving through DSS.

“It appears the foster care population grows and fades with the (popular drug of the day),” said Commissioner Kirk Kirkpatrick.

Some parents with drug addictions end up in prison, leaving children without a guardian. Chairman Mark Swanger postulated that the increase might be a result of concerted efforts by police to crack down on prescription drug abuse in Haywood County.

“It’s ironic the more effective law enforcement is the higher foster care costs we have,” Swanger said.

Dove assured the board that DSS tries every other option before separating a child from their family. The first strategy is having social workers visit the family regularly and work on rectifying issues affecting child safety.

If the child cannot remain with a parent, DSS searches for other family members willing to care for the child. But it can be difficult to track down relatives living outside North Carolina or, in some case, convincing them to take the child.

“Those kids have some pretty significant traumatic issues,” Dove said.

If the in home program is ineffective or willing relatives cannot be found, the child is placed in foster care.

“This is the last resort for us. It’s not where we go first,” Dove said.

Although the department goes through several steps before resorting to foster care, Dove told commissioners that he would not be happy until the program was not needed.

“As long as there is one child in foster care, we can do more. We can do better,” Dove said.

DSS is in need of volunteers willing to take in foster children. To start the process of becoming a foster family, call DSS at 828.452.6620.

Support Safe Housing for All Youth Aging Out of Foster Care

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Imagine a world where your child is forced to leave your home at age 18. You can no longer provide the love, support and roof you worked so hard for throughout your child’s life. On his or her 18th birthday, your child must instantly transition into adulthood with little more than a suitcase of their belongings. Would your child be ready?

This is the reality for too many of the nearly 10,000 children and adolescents who have been removed from their families and placed in the foster care system because of abuse or neglect.  They enter the foster care system in a time of crisis only to be kicked out at age 18, unprepared for the crises to come.

It is unacceptable that in a society where approximately half of all youth live with their parents until age 24, we expect those who have experienced PTSD-inducing childhood trauma to be the ones surviving completely on their own at age 18 – with no family to fall back on when things get rough. And what happens to these youth? Study after study demonstrates that they end up homeless. In its most recent annual survey, the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH) estimated that one of every eleven youth from foster care will experience being homeless.

The Mockingbird Society, in collaboration with community partners, foster parents and legislators, is laser focused on reversing the longstanding pattern of Washington discharging youth from foster care into homelessness.  This pattern is not unique to Washington. In fact, it is a national epidemic.  The NAEH has rightly identified stopping foster care systems from this practice as a key strategy for ending youth homelessness in America.

In 2006, Washington established the Foster Care to 21 pilot program thanks to forward-thinking legislators. This program allowed up to 150 youth to remain in foster care to age 21 to pursue their post-secondary education.  The evaluation results are consistent with national research as well as what most parents and grandparents might say: youth who had safe housing and other supports did significantly better than those who were literally on their own.  Not only did they reduce their negative behaviors such as stealing, early parenting, and reliance on public assistance, but they also increased their academic achievement, gained valuable work experience, and began the successful transition to healthy adulthood. In fact, for every Washington tax dollar invested in this service, our community received a return on investment of $1.35.  Ensuring youth have safe housing to utilize as a foundation for achievement makes both fiscal and common sense.

Thanks to the bi-partisan support of our Legislature, we have made great gains ensuring foster youth have the opportunity to remain in foster care to age 21.  Currently, youth who pursue their secondary or post-secondary education are eligible to remain in foster care to age 21.  But certain populations don’t get this support.

Now, we are asking our elected-leaders and community members alike to provide this opportunity to those youth who need it most. Current proposed legislation (Extended Foster Care HB 1302/SB 5405) would extend this support to the remaining youth who are not able, or not yet ready, for the educational track.  This includes youth who have serious medical issues including cognitive or physical disabilities, youth who have significant barriers to employment or academia, and youth who are working part time but still unable to afford full independence.

Earlier this year I testified in favor of HB 1302 with a courageous young man with a seizure disorder which would have qualified him for Extended Foster Care had this legislation been in effect when he turned 18. He modestly said that his condition made things more complicated after leaving care, and that pursuing his education or employment was not a realistic option for him at 18. Soon after his testimony he had a minor seizure, right in the hearing room. Are we really going to kick youth like him out at age 18?

Imagining a world where we cannot provide our children the support they need to be successful, independent adults is a nightmare. The moment the state decides to remove a child from their home, that child becomes our collective responsibility as a community. As parents, our care and support guides our own children safely into young adulthood. Our commitment should be no less for youth in foster care.

I call on legislators and community members alike to fulfill this responsibility and support Extended Foster Care, House Bill 1302 and Senate Bill 5405.