Freedom can be frightening for youth in foster care

Jul 05 2012

By Janet Rodriguez

Hope everyone had a great Independence Day! I don't know about you, but this has always been one of my favorite holidays. The fireworks, parades, and family and friends celebrating freedom! Because what is there not to celebrate about freedom! Just typing the word conjures up visions of hair blowing in the wind and dogs running through open fields. It wasn't until very recently that I saw the other side of independence and freedom, through the eyes of a child in foster care: the idea of being on your own, completely independent of family support, total freedom from the safety net that having family provides. The depth of this reality hits me daily as I serve on the Transitioning Youth team at CASA.

Annually, approximately 1500 children will age out of foster care in the state of Texas. What this means is that at some point these children were removed from their family for neglect or abuse and placed into the care of the state. In the amount of time that child was in foster care a permanent home (either by reunification with parents, placement with extended family, or through adoption) never came to fruition. And like every other child in the country, once they turn 18 they are considered an adult. However, unlike the majority of the other children turning into young adults, foster kids aging out are doing it alone. And friends, to be honest, they are not doing it well. An overwhelming number of them will not graduate from high school, 40 % of them will at some point be homeless and less than 3% of them will earn a college degree. Are you outraged yet? If you need to take a moment and picture the dog running through the fields again, that's fine... believe it or not this is actually about to get at least a little bit better, so take your time, CASA will be here!

Now for the good news, and of course, the call to action! You didn't think you weren't going to be part of the solution did you? Luckily for you and most importantly for the children of Travis County, your friendly neighborhood CASA program saw a need and filled it. Enter the Transitioning Youth Project!

In 2009 CASA of Travis County started its Transitioning Youth Project (TYP). Professional CASA staff on the TYP focus on youth who are at risk of aging out of foster care. The TYP team focuses on three core principles: education, preparation for adult living and healthy connections. The TYP team, along with our amazing volunteers, holds monthly meet-ups for the teens. Meet-ups invite expert speakers to educate the kids on not only job and higher education opportunities, but on varied topics from healthy cooking to sexuality to substance use and abuse issues. It has been inspiring to see these monthly events open up amazing lines of communication between the kids, staff and volunteers. Each one of these topics is vital in preparing these kids for living as healthy, productive members of society. The most incredible part is of course the relationships between the kids and their volunteers. Many of these relationships become the very healthy connection that is at the core of helping our youth transition into adult living. Along with the many other community resources and dedicated people willing to put in the work to prepare our youth, we are hopeful that for these kids independence will not mean that they are in it alone.