Communities shouldn’t forget fostered youths
May 8, 2017
By Liz Thompson
This Week News
At age 18, I had a home and family. I still do, 47 years later.
But each year, more than 23,000 18-year-olds age out of the foster-care system, never having been adopted, with neither home nor family.
That is more than the population of Worthington and Canal Winchester combined.
Don’t believe the myth that children are in foster care because they have done something wrong. They are victims who were removed from their families because of abuse or neglect. In 2015, almost 428,000 children were in foster care in the U.S. These children dream of an enduring home.
Ohio Fostering Connection shows grim statistics on Ohio youths aged out of foster care: By age 19, 14 percent have a child; 24 percent work full time; 12 percent work part time; 26 percent had been homeless; 36 percent had been incarcerated; and 53 percent had not finished high school or received their GED.
Rita Soronen, president and CEO of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, said she quotes the foundation’s namesake every day: “These children are not someone else’s responsibility — they are our responsibility.”
Deborrha Armstrong, communications director with Franklin County Children Services, said the goal of the agency’s Youth Transition Program is to assist youth 16 and older to live independently.
“During this time, case workers are still a contact for youth,” Armstrong said. “Some families opt to keep children after 18, providing housing and life-skill instruction as a host home. Many more are needed to serve in this capacity or as foster parents.”
Many, at 18, just want out.
“Many opt out of the emancipation transitional program thinking they can do it on their own — they want out of the (welfare) system,” Soronen said.
Ann Bischoff, executive director of Ohio State University’s Star House, agreed with Soronen. The Star House is a drop-in center for people in transition, ages 14-24, who are experiencing homelessness.
“We have a place for everybody,” she said. “Our goal is to establish a relationship with the youth and then help them seek permanent solutions.”
At Star House, young people are able to do laundry, eat, rest, bathe and receive clothing. It also is a place to connect to the services available through other agencies that provide educational, health, financial and food subsidies along with chances to build job-seeking skills.
“Imagine being 18 and walking into a shelter with 110 grown men,” said Sue Villilo, executive director of Faith Mission. “We have a partnership with Huckleberry House to help young adults with the transition into shelter.”
The Huckleberry House has a transitional living program that provides a safe, furnished place to stay for 12 to 18 months while residents work on independent living skills, along with counseling to help with educational and employment goals.
“They shouldn’t have to come back (anywhere) and ask for help,” Soronen said. “Many think, ‘Was I not good enough to be adopted?’ ”
People considering fostering or adoption often fear they won’t get the support they need or feel like they’re jumping into the unknown.
“The adults need to genuinely believe it’s worth it to give a child a home and consider the child’s needs before their own,” Soronen said.
Children Services’ mentoring program helps teens and college-age youths feel connected with positive adult role models in the community.
“We need to bring community back for our children and families. This used to be natural in neighborhoods,” Armstrong said.
“We have a moral obligation to provide a safety net and the core of a safe community for our children,” Soronen said.
Call one of these numbers or visit the websites: mentoring, Children Services, 614-275-2690; foster parenting and serving as a host home, fostercare.fccs.us; adoption, davethomasfoundation.org or 800-275-8832; Star House, 614-826-5868; Huckleberry House 24/7 crisis hotline, 614-294-5553; transitional living program, 614-294-8097.