A current member of our Foster Youth Internship program forwarded the article, “For Foster Care Teens, Graduation is No Celebration,” and thought that it highlighted the barriers that face foster youth aging out of the system. Intrigued, I opened the article and was struck by the following:
It seemed like wherever I turned last week, emancipation was on someone’s lips.
I called Maya Durrett, program director at the San Francisco CASA Program, just to find out what her shop is up to lately. CASAs (court-appointed special advocates) mentor foster children and advocate for them in court.
“Well, it’s emancipation season,” she said.
The article goes on to discuss the many issues that transitioning foster youth face, such as “accessing employment opportunities, mental health services, school, substance abuse treatment and medical care.” Access to services that are already available. How many times do we as practitioners have to hear this before action is taken? According to the “Midwest Evaluation on the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth,” when asked about receipt of services across six domains (Education, vocational training or employment, budgeting and financial management, health education, housing, and youth development) about one third or less of the youth reported having received the services. A major reason for this is that youth are either unaware such services exist or misinterpret their eligibility to receive them.
A particularly creative approach to fixing this very issue was presented in the report “Putting the ‘Foster’ Back Into Foster Care: Recommendations for Improving Foster Care and Adoption.” In this recommendation, the 2008 Class of Foster Youth Interns thought “creating a federally supported, centralized website that contains all materials and information relevant to the needs of foster youth who are aging out of the system” would alleviate the information gap that currently exists between the youth in care and the services available to them. The interns modeled this website after the www.AdoptUSkids.org website, which is administered by the Administration of Children and Families Children’s Bureau in the Department of Health and Human Services, and provides information to perspective adoptive parents about the children waiting to be adopted from foster care around the county. FosterUSKids.org could provide detailed information regarding relevant Federal and State programs, child welfare advocacy agencies, as well as a host of non-profit and community organizations dedicated to serving foster youth.
Maybe once FosterUSKids.org is created, we will stop viewing “emancipation season” as a time of disconnection and despair, rather as a time of continued connection to a lifelong support network.
-Chelsea Cathcart, CCAI’s Director of Programs