Ripples of hope

Youths aging out of foster care still need families

2013-10-25T00:00:00Z 2013-10-29T18:12:17Z Youths aging out of foster care still need familiesBy Elena Dwyre Times Columnist nwitimes.com
October 25, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Becoming an adult proves challenging for most people and is especially tough for youth leaving foster care.

As parents, our role in our children's lives goes far beyond providing them with food, clothing, and shelter. We nurture and guide them, and as they age, expose them to new experiences and opportunities, encouraging them to succeed in school, teaching them about healthy relationships and the importance of building life skills.

Adolescence can be challenging for both children and parents, with every positive interaction an opportunity to establish the building blocks teens need to succeed.

Now, imagine what it's like to be a teenager in foster care, approaching legal adulthood and facing the unrealistic expectation that you will be able to succeed on your own at 18.

Many youth who "age out" of foster care report being homeless at some point. At such a critical stage of their development, these young adults struggle to find housing. Many are forced on the streets and/or to homeless shelters.

The case for investing in youth aging out of foster care is a powerful one. To increase the number of success stories, the Department of Child Services and the Indiana Office of Guardian Ad Litem/Court-Appointed Special Advocate have been focusing more on older foster youth.

An initiative called Collaborative Care has added  efforts to find host families willing to take in college students over school breaks, and there are independent living funds available for foster youth who have aged out to help pay rent and living expenses.

While these programs aren’t brand new, DCS has been making a bigger push to educate family case workers and others who work with foster youth regarding their existence.

It is important to consider the voices of these youth:

“People should understand that we are just like any other 19-something out there,” Jackie said. “We have the same goals, hopes and dreams, yet without the same resources.”

Jason appreciates the resources he’s received through federal- and state-funded extended foster care, and he’s not ready to give them up quite yet.

“I’m happy here, and I think I’d be afraid to leave right now,” he said. “I have my family here. I have my foster mom and everyone here. I think I needed this, like rules and structure, to become who I am.”

At Campagna, we are fortunate to work with children and youth in foster care and also have a foster care program on site. We see firsthand the struggles and stigma they face in the community and school. We also see the power that one foster parent has to change lives by offering them homes where they can feel safe and return in the future.

We have several foster parents who only foster older youth, and others who continue to parent youth who are no longer in the system, welcoming them home for the holidays and spring and summer breaks, as we do our own sons and daughters. Their stories of Thanksgiving and Christmas Days are true examples of what we can each do as part of our community.

Elena Dwyre, MS, LSW is CEO of Campagna Academy in Schererville. Contact her at edwyre@cahope.org or (219) 322-8614, or visit www.campagnaacademy.org for more information. Opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

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