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.


November 7, 2007

Kansas State Student Database

It is not uncommon for children and teens in foster care to move placements several times in one year, which also means new schools. Often times the previous school will take longer than necessary to send transcripts to the current school thereby delaying the students enrollment and/or placement in appropriate classes and educational support.

For example, I know a young man that required a full day of self contained classes and was developmentally delayed. The school had not yet received the students IEP and transcripts and so this young man was placed in all regular classes with the rest of the student population. As if moving to a new foster home wasn’t stressful enough, having to go through several school days without proper support made the transition a traumatic experience.

A personal example: I lived in a residential treatment center and went to the local public school. It was determined that I was ready to live in a transitional living group home in a new school district. In the RTC, one of my school books turned up missing (not unusual in these types of placements) and that school refused to release my transcripts to the new school until someone had paid for the book. Well after running away several more times and changing to two more school before the end of the school year, my transcripts still did not follow me. Several years later, when I was on my own, I had to prove to the college I was enrolling in that I had taken a college level algebra course in high school and had no way to do this, because alas, my transcripts were still being held hostage. And of course, I did not have the money to pay for that one book.

So finally, one state was brave enough to try something new, to identify a problem and come up with a solution, something that I find amazing seeing as how it is part of the whole, ya know, “system”.

The state of Kansas created a student database, with a focus on foster youth, that school will be able to access the most current up-to-date records for the youth no matter how often they move or where they move in the state.
The organization I work for will be going to the state capital soon talk to legislatures about this awesome database and how much it could help foster youth.

Click here if yo’dlike to read more about the Kansas student database.

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.

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