Foster Culture

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.

October 16, 2007



In a panic, S ran to the sliding door balcony of her bedroom. She went out onto the porch and looked down. The porch was on the second story and she knew that her only way out was to jump. It was the only way at that point and once she jumped she couldn’t turn back. The rock collection she loved so much was spread out all over the porch, rocks that she’d been collecting for years. Some were just pretty, but some reminded her of other places and people. They were her only photographs and the only way she had to remember everyone and everything.

I can make it, she thought ot herself. She swung one foot over and straddled the rail. Shit, I forgot to close the door, they’ll know how I got out if I left it open. She swung her leg back over and slid the door shut. Back over the rail. Hold on tight. Squat down, hang on, just hang on. Her feet were dangling now from the balcony; she figured her feet were only about ten feet off the ground. This isn’t far; I’ve jumped further from trees. And S let go. She landed on her feet in a squatting position and her head flung forward and her hands landed in front of her keeping her head from banging into the ground. Crack. She knew here neck was messed up, but it was OK for now.

She looked in both directions and stood up close to the house. Siding, blue house siding. Luckily this house was in the middle of the woods, so there were no neighbors to see her in action, to see the dramatic display. She stood tight with the house inching her way along and listening for anyone that might be looking for her, so far no one. As soon as she made her way around to the front of the house there was no way to go but down the driveway to the road. But no one can see me, no one can know that I’m even gone yet. I want them to just find me gone in a few hours, I want them to worry and I want them to feel bad about how they treated me.

S made a run for it, down the driveway as fast as she could. Her neck felt weird, but it was OK for now. She was fine. She looked back at the house through her mad run, no, no one’s looking out yet, I can make it, I got this. Finally, the winding driveway opened up to the road. It was just about dusk and S straitened herself up and looked both ways down the road. What now?

That was always the question. Well, just start walking. This was not the city. If someone was walking along the side of the road in these parts it looked weird or suspicious. There were no sidewalks or crosswalks. If you saw someone on the side of the road, it usually meant their car was broken down. Or maybe that no one liked them enough to give them a ride to go where they needed to go, or worse, they were so poor that they just couldn’t afford a car. You couldn’t survive without a car in this country hick place.

S walked for a little while and noticed the next door neighbors drive heading up a hill, it was less than a quarter of a mile down the road from Patty and Carl’s house. Well, it’s not like I can forever sleep in the woods, I might as well go up and ask to use their phone. The thought of wiping her ass with leaves grossed her out a little and she was convinced to take a chance.

She started up the steep winding driveway towards the house. There were a few lights on and an old pick up truck in the driveway. Shingles were at the edge of the roof of the garage, just waiting for wind to hit em from the right direction ot free them up enough to fall to the ground. It was kind of a dump, but S didn’t care, hopefully they’d help her and not call the police or worse Patty and Carl. At this point a night in jail was tolerable, but going back to that house was out of the question.

Paint was falling off the door and she could smell weed. Even though she’d never smoked pot, she knew its flavor. She knocked lightly and immediately heard rustling around inside and whispering.

“Who is it”, a voice from inside demanded. It was a woman’s voice.

“Um, it’s your neighbor, my name is S”


“S, my name is S. I’m your neighbor”

The door flung opened, “Can I help you”. A middle aged woman stood at the door. Looking a little drunk and suspicious. She wore a house robe and slippers and was obviously not happy about the unannounced visit.

“I’m sorry to bother you, I just was wondering if I could use your phone really fast”, S said. She couldn’t offer too many details, since she was now an official runaway, but at the same time was asking to go inside someone’s house that didn’t know her. Really she should’ve been more scared, but she wasn’t.

“Where’d you say you lived?” said the woman.

Just down the road a little bit, we moved in down the road about 6 months ago, in the spring.” S wasn’t sure if she was gonna buy that and was worried that the woman was gonna start asking more questions.

The woman squinted at the thin, pale girl that stood in front of her, she was pretty, but her eyes were sorta red, like she’d been crying. She noticed scraps on the girl’s palms.

“My name is Shirley; you can come in for a minute, just to use the phone.”


S made her way in the door and could still see the left over smoke from the weed. It scared her a little, that she was in someone’s house that she didn’t know, that did illegal drugs. Shrew it, I’m a runaway, this is just gonna be the life I have to live from now on, rolling with other criminals, that’s just how it works.

Shirley led her into the front room where the furniture was still wrapped in the plastic that it originally came in, but it looked out of date. Stains covered the ugly green carpet and beyond the marijuana funk, a nursing home dog cat type smell invaded her senses. Her eyes welled up she gagged. She knew if she made a face that would seem rude so she played it off nicely by explaining that she’s had a little bit of a cough that’s she’s trying to get over, but don’t’; worry, it’s not contagious. What a nasty ass smell she thought. Gross. Funny enough, there were no animals in sight.

Shirley took the girl down the hall from the living room into the kitchen where there were two men sitting at a brown fake wood kitchen table. Playing cards, empty beer cans, half eaten ship bags cluttered the table.

“Mike, Alan, this is S, she’s our neighbor, she’s come to use the phone, she said she’ll only be a minute.”

“Neighbor, we’d ne’er had a neighbor visit us ‘fore have we, Shirls” Said the fatter one with the camouflage cap on his head and mostly red plaid shirt. He smiled at he strange girl and she could see his teeth were yellow and his very front tooth was sticking out.

Yuck, more rednecks.

“No we haven’t, that one is Mike he’s my husband, and that one is Alan, he just never leaves,” Shirley said in a half joking voice.

S walked over and picked up the phone. 555-4857, she always could remember phone numbers, it was a gift.


“Hey, Sam, it’s S. Can you come get me?”

“Where the hell are you” said the voice over the phone.

“I’m at my neighbor’s house, you know, Patty found out about us sneaking out and tried to ground me from ever having fun so I left. Can you come get me? Maybe your mom will come.”

“She’s not gonna come get you, she told me I can’t hang out with you anymore. I guess Trina’s mom found out we all snuck out and called my mom and Patty. So they all said we can’t hang out with you, they think you’re trouble.”

‘Me, it wasn’t even my idea. It was Trina’s big freakin plan; did you tell your mom that? I didn’t even want to go,” the tears in S eyes were about to burst.

“Well, Trina’s been my best friend forever, I couldn’t get grounded from hanging out with her, plus her sisters gonna have her license soon and will be able to drive us around and I’ll get to hang out with Scott more often.”

Her hanging out with Scott also meant that she was gonna get to hang out with Derrick. Derrick had been S’s boyfriend since they snuck out almost a week ago. Derrick was in the 8th grade and he was the cutest kid in school. He was a skater boy and always wore long baggy pants and had short hair with long bangs. That night they kissed, it wasn’t her first kiss, but it was the first one where she didn’t feel as scared.

S was defeated; she had no one else to call. All she could do now was make sure that Sam heard it in her voice. “Ok, that’s fine. Well chances are, I won’t be seeing you at school tomorrow, and I’m not going back there.”

“Well then where are you going?”

“I don’t know, I’ll disappear from Cedar Hill Middle school just as easily as I appeared. I gotta go, it was nice knowing you”

Click. She hung up knowing she made the impression that she wanted to make. She knew she wasn’t going to ever see Sam again.

She turned around and realized that her conversation wasn’t private. All three of the rednecks were not hiding the fact they were listening in to every detail.

Mike sniffed, adjusted his hideous hat and took a swig of beer. “Well honey, it sounds like you’re in some trouble, huh? Wanna beer?”

“No thanks.”

“So you’re one of those girls that live at Patty and Carls huh? They’re some high fallutin type of folks aren’t they, They own that furniture store in town and all,” Shirley sounded kind of bitter. S wondered if these rednecks were gonna be her allies.

“Yeah, they do and their daughter owns the beauty shop in town too, although she hardly works there that much, she mostly stays home to take care of her kids and just checks in at the shop a few times a week. Are you guys gonna call the police?

“Do you really think we want the police here? Shit no. And if those folks you live with think you’re over here you better get on, we can’t have anyone disturbin’ us up here.” This was the first S heard Alan speak. He’d been quiet, not even to say hi, but S could feel his eyes all over her, she couldn’t tell if it was curiosity, suspicion or lust. A man’s lust was sorta a new thing for her, men, older men, started paying more attention to her lately. She’d come to despise them. If she felt or heard anything other than a fatherly tone of voice and smile, she hated them.

“Sorry, are you gonna call Patty?”

“You really just need to leave and find somewhere else to go, what exactly happened over there anyway, did that stuck up crab ass hit ya or something?”, Shirley asked. S could tell she wanted details, she wanted drama, she wanted Jerry Springer. If she gave it em, they’d help her.

“Now Shirls, leave the girl alone, you come over here, Katie and sit down, sure you don’t want a beer,” Mike’s honey darling sweetheart voice bothered her. She didn’t bother to correct him on the name thing.

S walked over to the table and tried to choose a smart seat, a get-a-way if necessary seat, or a seat that wouldn’t imply anything. All these types of things, the things that aren’t spoken with words, the ones that are spoken with your body are the most important. S was nervous enough that she knew she had to be careful of her actions, especially when it came to the rednecks, especially redneck men. Alan was trying not to look at her, and so she made sure not to look in his direction. She focused on Shirley as much as possible. The kitchen felt dark; there were chickens on the walls. The wallpaper was full of chickens pecking and chickens clucking, the metal relief decorations were chicken, the potholders were chicken, and it kinda smelled like chicken. Chickens were dirty animals. “I like all your chicken stuff, Shirley. It feels cozy, like a place that would be nice to have a thanksgiving meal.”

Shirley squinted her eyes again when she replied, “I’ve been collecting chicken stuff for 10 years, if you look on top of the cabinets above the stove, Mike had a real chicken stuffed for me about 2 years ago. I think it kinda completes my collection.” She proudly gazed aound the room, her kitchen, her joy.

Gross. Tacky. “Well I think you should keep collecting your chicken stuff. You still have more wall space over there in between those hen and rooster pictures and you can still fit some stuff above the cabinets. And do you have chicken plates? What about chicken dish towels?”

Shirley just stared at her for a minute, her cheeks were hollowed in and eyes were half open, like sunlight was getting in them. S didn’t know if she’d gone too far with the schmoozing or if maybe Shirley could hear the subtle sarcasm in her voice. Either way, she wanted her to hurry and say something. Shirley looked at Mike and back at S and back at Mike and said,” Well Jesus Mike, that’s a good idea, don’t you think, I could get chicken dishes. Where do you think I could find something like that?” she asked in S’s direction.

“Jesus, that’s why you can’t put ideas in this woman’s head, then she wants to do stuff, like decorate.” He chuckled at his joke, “let’s figure out what the hell we’re going to do with this little girl first before ya’ll start talking decorations and shit.”

Alan looked up from his beer bottle, Bush, and perked up when it came to the topic of S’s interest. Say something little girlish, say something little girlish.

“I’ve been collecting rocks since I was really young and I just always keep my eye out for a good rock, as long as I’m always alert, I find one when I’m least expecting it. I have a great rock collection.”

“I figure if I took her over to my house, she could sleep in Alex’s room and tomorrow she could stay with Jen and the kids and figure out where she’s gonna go from there”. S wasn’t expecting Alan to speak up so suddenly, she wasn’t sure how to react. Please don’t make me go with him, he looks at me funny, don’t you see it, he’s all gross and he looks at me funny.

“That’s nice and everything, but who’s Jen?”

“Oh, that’s Alan’s wife and they have 3 kids. 1, 2 and 3, all boys. Alex is the youngest; he still wakes up at night. That’s a great idea, she could help out Jen with all them boys tomorrow, damn, she needs a break. I’d go over there more but those kids get on my damn nerves, no offense Alan.” Shirley said.

“No shit”, Mike concurred.

How does this shit happen to me?

“It really would be OK; Jen’s a real nice lady.”

“Well OK, I guess that alright”

Mike could tell S was reluctant, “You know we’d have ya stay here except this is probably one of the first places they’ll come to look for ya.”

“Yeah, I know.”

I’m a leaf, I blow in the freakin wind.

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?


October 13, 2007


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.


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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