Foster Culture

October 13, 2007

Emancipation

Although emancipation is the widely used term when describing a youth that will no longer be in states custody, a judge is technically lifting state jurisdiction of that child’s custody. Meaning that at 18 years old, a kid can be on their own without a guardian or supervision.

Imagine!!! 18! Without a guardian??? What gives? This is something about the system that NEEDS to be changed…take a look at some of those statistic in the margins. 50% of people that have been in foster care find themselves homeless at some point in their life. Visualize homeless, what comes to mind? For a lot of people that will look something like this: Dirty, dumpster diving, sleeping in parks, etc. Does this sound familiar? In truth, homeless people are also those that find themselves couch hopping, without a permanent address to put on a foodstamp application, having to sacrifice their personal safety and boundaries in order to make sure they have a place to rest their head. Maybe this sounds better than the image of the homeless living on skid row…but this is the first step, now imagine being 18 or 19 and this is the path your on. What hope does this person have? How does a kid climb their way out of the inevitable?

Now, I need to add one more factor into the mix. Teenage development. There sorta are 3 stages to teenage development, I say sorta cause everyone is different. The beginning, physically the body is beginning to show signs of puberty in girls, these signs are not as obvious in boys at first. Of course we know that at this point, social relationships are very important. The middle years when, we the adults, are just stupid, not just stupid, but the question of how we made it to adulthood in the first place may arise. Like, we are really dumb. Their friends are very important, in fact, sometimes this is their main motivation. It’s usually during the last stage that teens are beginning to realize that the adults in their life are not AS stupid as they originally thought, steps to maturity.

I believe it’s a well known fact that traumatic events that occur in one’s life during childhood will often delay the natural progression of mental development. This may be caused by abuse, witnessing abuse, drug or alcohol use, being moved into an uncomfortable unfamiliar environment, etc. All things that foster youth deal with. It only seems obvious to me that a possible delay in maturity should be considered when making the life altering decision of whether or not to release state jurisdiction over a youth in foster care.

Scenario:

R is 17 years old and has been “on the run” for 4 months. He has contacted his Childcare Manager and says that he will only come back into custody if he can go back to an old foster home. He is referring to a home that he lived in 4 years ago and was moved from because of behavioral challenges that the foster mother felt like she could not handle. His case manager explains that that is not an option, but if he works a program at a residential treatment center, he will probably qualify to go into an Independent Living Home. He says that he doesn’t want to work “a program” that this is his life and he doesn’t deserve to be an inmate or some strangers project.

This is a typical scenario among older foster youth. They want things their way, right away. This attitude is also typical of an adolescent in middle development…but of course, we are not talking about typical teens either. First of all, although this kid is about 171/2, developmentally he is really like that of a 14 or 15 year old. He is rebelling typical of his development age and rebelling typically like that of a person who has suffered great traumatic events in life.

It is about the age of 19 or 20 that people begin to realize that they do not know EVERYTHING and maybe it would be good to take some advise or let an adult help.

But for the kid that was “emancipated” at the age of 18, it will be too late before they surpass these important life milestones

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