Monday, March 12, 2007

Turning 18 in foster care

I believe that in every state kids may stay in care, if they are still in care, until they are 19. At least some states allow youth to stay until they are 21. My private agency will allow them to stay until they are 21, or 90 days after high school graduation. Evan and Carl both moved out near or after their 19th birthdays.

In my state, they may stay until they are 19. Unfortunately, there are not many places in the state system for youth that age. It is especially difficult for the youth who have got into the most trouble. At 18 they need to have a criminal background check in order to live in the home. They become a liability.

If they are living in the teen shelter, they must move out. The foster parents I know who take the behaviorally challenging kids rarely allow them to stay.

The kids I talk to often don't seem to understand that they have the right to stay in care until the are 19. This might be because social workers don't tell them, or because the kids refuse to "hear" it.

See, generally speaking, the kids don't want to stay in care. State foster parents often tell me that the kids pack up and go back to their (first) families. The kids that I know are far removed from their families of birth. David left to live with a boyfriend. Miss E is planning on living with a sister, who may be a sibling from birth or may be from the family who adopted Miss E.

Both Miss E and David have told me that the smart thing to do is to stay in care. Miss E expressed admiration of Evan for doing it. They understand, at least intellectually, that by leaving they are going to make their lives more difficult. They understand that it would be better to stay in care and finish high school.

They just can't bring themselves to do it.

They are tired of social workers looking over the shoulders. They are tired of foster families imposing rules they don't think they need. These are kids who probably took care of themselves and maybe even siblings when they were eight. Why would they need help now that they are 18?

And those last few months are so stressful. Whenever it is that the kids start perceiving themselves in the final stretch, they start acting out. Not all of them. Carl and Evan were very easy their last few months. For many of them though, the see it coming and they want it now. Everything else becomes unimportant.

If you don't have a relationship with the child, their decisions increasingly become a matter of weighing what they want to do against the consequences they are likely to suffer.

How long can they be away before you will call them in as a runaway? What are the chances that they will get back before the police find them? If they have no prior history as a runaway, will the police do anything other than give them a ride home? They do the math and decide that this weekend they are not coming home.

What exactly is the school's absentee policy? Our school allows nine absences and then you have to petition. If you have C's and can document a good reason for missing school, then the petition will pass. They figure they can cut at least nine times. Of course they will get detention if the absences are unexcused, but notes are so easy to forge it's laughable. They wonder if you, the parent, are really going to call the school to unexcuse them? (I've done that. It confuses the them to no end. School officials always seem to assume that you are contacting them to ask for leniency. It can take a while to get through to them.)

It is different if you are parenting a child you have a strong, positive relationship with. If you have that, then the fact that you are worried about them when they don't come home becomes a factor in the equation. It might not be a big factor, but it is in there.

If you don't have a relationship, or if the child is working hard to sever it so that it will be easier to move out, then your feelings and needs have either a negative influence or no influence at all.

I've written about all this before and I have debated possible solutions (I'm not going to search the posts and give you links. It isn't really different from what I'm saying now).

I wish their 18th birthday had no special significance. I wish that adolescents could not acheive legal adulthood until they finish high school or turn 21. I wish that the kids were thinking trying hard to graduate so that they could leave, not just biding their time waiting for the magic date to roll around.

I wish...I wish...

But I am powerless. I am powerless over the situation and I am especially powerless over Miss E. I now have confirmation that she not only did not come home last night but that she did not go to school today. Her phone call this morning was a complete and total fabrication, which is not the least bit surprising.

I wish...

I wish these kids would accept the help they need.


  1. I wish too. That these kids didn't get so hurt, so young. I wish I could feel more hope for their futures. Dang it anyway.
    How is it going with the fundie girlfriend?

  2. lisa@miss-lisa.com5:46 PM

    In one sense I can understand why young people might want to leave foster care ASAP.

    When I aged out of foster care in the 80's, at age 16 and started college, I had been repeatedly disillusioned by the adults who were "supposed" to protect and shelter me.

    However, since that time, I have met dedicated, caring social workers and foster parents.

    Really, for a child in foster care, it is the luck of the draw.

    While at the Casey "It's My Life" conference last fall, I was very impressed by a young man I met named Anthony Pico.

    Anthony is articulate and knowledgeable. He took time to educate himself about the child welfare system and had the courage to advocate for himself while in foster care.

    Anthony saw the wisdom of the extended resources that you spoke of... He met with his social worker and insisted that she extend his time in care.

    Anthony is an amazing young man... You can learn more about him at several sites online, including:

  3. Not sure why it wouldn't let me log in with my Blogger account...

    Anyway, the posting about Anthony is from me,


  4. I would say there are three types of kids who stay in or return to care (in my state, kids can come back until they're 21): really bright kids who have done well academically all their lives and who really, really, really want to go to college (these are very rare); kids who have a relationship with their FP's, either because they have been with them for a long time or because it is a kinship placement, and their FP's are invested in helping them plan for the future, and the kids trust them; and teens who become pregnant and need some way to care for themselves and their baby.

    For typical teens and young adults, choices like E is currently making don't have the consequences they have for kids in care. If my kid took off for a weekend, I might be very angry when he came home, but he wouldn't be in jeopardy of losing his home, his support system, and his future. I don't know how to fix that.


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