Foster Culture

February 17, 2008

In preparation

I’m writing this in response to the comment I copied below:

“What were your main concerns were after leaving the foster care system? I work with kids in the FCS, and am interested on how best to prepare them for emancipation.”

I think there is a lot of information about preparing youth for independent living that social service organizations are putting to pretty good use. Those skills such as finding and keeping a job, using public transportation, budgeting and being resourceful are all very important.

The biggest problem with all this, in my opinion, is that a lot of the youth needing to learn these skills are more interested in their friends and social life. All the rest is secondary to them, especially youth in foster care. Since they often do not have a family structure as a support system, they rely on their friends for this, which of course is typical for a teenager, but this is a little more to the extreme.

Even when I after emancipation, I was still pretty immature, so putting my ILP skills to youth was still not as important. What I did was find a group of peers that were also considered “social misfits”and we all worked together (in a family structure) to survive, not always through legal means I might add.

Being in foster care gave me two very important survival skills for this time period in my life, 1.I was used to and comfortable with relying on other that I barely knew for help and resources, yet had good instinct about who was and was not trustworthy and 2.The knowledge that I could skip out on this group of “friends” anytime I needed to, ie. wasn’t getting  my needs met, felt uncomfortable or thought there was something better out there (the grass is always greener).

If any adult working with young people in foster care think back to their young adulthood, try to remember the moments you called your folks for help with bills, ride, food, laundry, anything. Create a foster youth canon text for your foster youth aging out, make sure they have the telephone number of every library, neighborhood center, youth outreach program, employment search out there. If you are the type of adult that gets really involved, give them numbers to reach you. You might get a phone call two years down the road from an emancipated foster youth needing a ride to a job interview and they can;t take the bus cause it’s raining, or help trying to understand how to buy a car or whatever.

There are certain thing we can prepare any young person for, but it’s not until they are there themselves that they’ll truly understand what the point of all that training was for and it’s about that time that they’ll realize they don’t actually know everything.

In each of these foster youth canon texts, along with community resources include their birth certificate, social security cards, family health history, transcripts, court document proving that they are independent  persons, immunization records, old tax documents, street guides (teach them how to use it), the name all the the free health clinics, a copy of their most important medical records…anything you can think of that they might/will need as a young adult in this society.

Teaching them to organize themselves is important, but a small plastic file folder/separator thing that they can throw their bills into. I know that I wasn’t nor did I care to be organized until I was in my mid 20’s.

These are just a few things that would have been good for me to have around, but really, even in all my rebellion, knowing that someone would still be there for me no matter what was what I needed…all the material thing I mentioned sure would have helped a lot too, might’ve even kept me out of come trouble. Hope that helps someone.


October 23, 2007

Emancipation at 21

So here’s the thing…people who are under the age of 21 should not be emancipated from the foster care system. I don’t care if they think they are ready, I don’t care if they hate the programs, if they are on the run or anything. The fact is, people that age are jsut not ready to be out in the world completely alone.

Here’s an example of why, true story:

A young couple came to my work today seeking shelter, claiming that they were homeless. They were both 18 years old and did not have a place to sleep that night. Someone in my office sat them down with a resource book to call shelters around the area. There was nothing available to them that evening. The young man’s boss finally agreed to let them stay with him, but reluctantly so. I doubt when this young man asked to be emancipated that he had any clue that he would be homeless. Of course he thought he was going to have a place to stay. To make it worse, the girl that was with him mentioned that together they had 2 children and that both of them were deceased. WTF, who in their right mind thought that this was a person ready to be released into the world?

That kid had no idea that he was part of that 50% statistic.

October 17, 2007

Aging Out Stats

I just wanted to highlite a few of the statistics I have written in the margins.

50% of people that had been in foster care become homeless at some point in their lives.

30% of foster youth graduate from high school or obtain their GED before they are emancipated or age out of the foster care system.

I talked to a woman that runs a teen homeless street outreach program that told me that 30% of the youth they find living on the streets that they being to the youth shelter had been in foster care at some point in their lives.

These are just a few. I am personally very curious about the percentage of foster youth that receive disability services. I think we will find that a very high percent of foster youth having learning or behavioral disabilities and require special education services and vocational services. There’s more too, but I have to get off the computer now.


Foster youth often have a strong sense of entitlement that shows in their behaviors, especially if they’ve been instituationalized. This often comes from abuses they have suffered intheir lives and as a consequence, having to live in states custody. Yes, the initial abuse is no longer occurring, but for a teen living with the stigma of being a “foster kid” and not having the very nice clothes, the ability to hang out with friends or have freedoms that other teens may have, they begin to feel like they are “owed” even more. Why are they treated this way, when they were the victim in the situation. Some teens prefer to go back to the abuse so they are able to live, at least superficially, a more normalized life.

 Of course, everything I write is a generalized. I meet teens in foster care everyday that are humbling examples of the human spirit. When I encounter one of these youth, I am just so amazed and know that there is something very unique about them.

I feel like getting past the sense of entitlement is crucial so that a teen can progress in their life and learn to be responsible self advocates. I know that in my situation, I overcame this with age. I was an exception in that I lived in foster care my entire life…my joke was, “The state of Missouri is my mom”, so the sense of entitlement came from the idea that I did not feel as if my faux mom was taking care of my properly.

I also feel like allowing teens in foster care to have more control over their lives is important, the expectation must be that they will make several huge mistakes in this process, it is only natural for foster youth to subconsciousy sabotage their placement (a subject I will elaborate on, eventually).

ILP and TLP programs work with this idea in mind, but I feel their expectations of the youth are sometime too high.

October 16, 2007

Foster Culture, wah?

Foster Culture, wah?

I was in the foster care system for 18 years of my life before I was emancipated by a judge on my eighteenth birthday. In that 18 years, I lived in countless foster homes, residential facilities, group homes, transitional living programs, hospitals and even juvenile detention. Running away was just part of who I was a teenager and demanding to be moved for little or no reason was standard.

I am now an adult and work with older foster youth. There are many things that have come to light through this job. The dysfunction of the foster care system, the subculture of foster youth and even the grave statistics that they face when entering adulthood.

Through this blog, I will retell my own stories and those of people I lived with while in care, enter injustices as I see them, statistical facts and mostly, information about the subculture of foster youth. The last for the important reason that it is a subject I have never been able to read about and one that I am very much a part of. People that have lived in foster care think differently, relate to others differently and survive differently.

I will say this, I am not a writer by nature. I am going to put it down in the most real way that I can and hope that it all makes sense.  Word.

An email I’m sending out to retrieve information on foster youth

I’m concerned about the number of youth that refuse to “work the programs” and are emancipated at 18 because of that. I see them as being emotionally immature because of traumas in their life, disabilities and normal teenage rebellion. Isn’t their some sort of studies that have been conducted on the psychology of foster youth that will keep judges for emancipating an unruly foster teen? If we just let them all remain in care until the age of 21 regardless of their behavior, my feeling is that they will begin the mature and take advantage of the resources available to them.

Can you direct me to studies or documents that investigates this specific issue?

October 15, 2007

When Foster Care Ends

An article restating the facts about Aging Out Foster Youth and what they face. It is pretty clear that the symptom of the problem is becoming clear, but still no one addresses the issue of the young age at which foster youth are emancipated.

What happens when foster care ends?

St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
September 12, 2004
Special to the Post-Dispatch

Estimated printed pages: 3

“On Their Own: What Happens to Kids When They Age Out of the Foster Care System” By Martha Shirk and Gary Stangler Published by Westview, 307 pages, $24.95 For most members of conventional society, foster children are out of sight, out of mind, even though there are hundreds of thousands of them across the nation. Almost without exception, foster children attain that status through no fault of their own, having been abused or neglected by their parents. Most foster children end up being moved again and again until they reach the age of majority — 18 in most states, 21 in a few. When reaching that age, foster children tend to be ill-prepared to live independently. They lack a loving support network, are usually without money, and many suffer from learning disabilities, mental illness or disorders leading to violent behavior. Martha Shirk is a journalist who has specialized in children and family issues for a couple of decades, much of it at the Post-Dispatch. Gary Stangler is former director of the Missouri Social Services Department, which exercises responsibility for foster children, and now executive director of the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative, headquartered in Clayton. Together, Shirk and Stangler have written a searing book about one aspect of the foster-care mess — the older teenagers who age out of the system meant to protect their welfare. The bulk of the book is devoted to eight case studies, including the death by drowning of one-time foster child Reggie Kelsey at age 18 three years ago in Des Moines, Iowa. The child-welfare system had served Kelsey more or less well, given his learning disabilities and mental illness. But any semblance of effective service halted when Kelsey turned 18, despite his inability to negotiate life on his own. The other case studies are set in Lawrence, Kan.; Boston; Brooklyn; San Antonio, Texas; San Francisco; and Pembroke Pines, Fla. Those diverse locales show the national scope of the problem. Foster children end up in all sorts of situations after they age out, even when from the same family. Shirk and Stangler chronicle the story of Jermaine, Jeffrey and Lamar Williams, close-knit brothers from Brooklyn. After they were sent to a home for abused and neglected children, Lamar, the youngest, adjusted well. Jermaine and Jeffrey rebelled. Jermaine ended up dead at age 28 because of an accident related to a drug deal. Jeffrey ended up in prison for armed robbery. Lamar graduated from college, found a good-paying job, married and lives on Long Island. Casey-Jack Kitos of Lawrence, Kan., after aging out of the system, joined the military, but ended up with a medical discharge. He found a job at a service station paying just above minimum wage. He decided to save for a college education, but then backed away from that course. A municipal water department hired him, but a few weeks later fired him. He quit or lost other jobs quickly. As his chapter ends, Kitos is 21, holding a part-time job, trying college after all, but unsure whether he will graduate. Shirk and Stangler, assisted by a foreword from former President Jimmy Carter, suggest reforms in this book, which is part solid journalism, part advocacy. The only way to bring about true reform, however, is for many currently unengaged adults to open their hearts and their homes to children in need of assistance. All the money in the world devoted to social-service agencies (which, in the real world, are perpetually underfunded) cannot make much of a dent otherwise. ===================== Martha Shirk, Gary Stangler When: 7 p.m. Monday Where: Left Bank Books, 399 North Euclid Avenue How much: Free More info: 314-367-6731 or

Photo – “On Their Own: What Happens to Kids When They Age Out of the Foster Care System”


Memo: Steve Weinberg is a freelance journalist in Columbia, Mo.

Edition: Five Star Lift
Section: A&E
Page: D10

Index Terms: book review

Copyright (c) 2004 St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Record Number: 1000089873

OpenURL Article Bookmark (right click, and copy the link location):

What happens when foster care ends?


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