Aging-Out of the Alabama Foster System

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When children cannot return home to their families, child welfare systems must move quickly to find them alternative homes. As time goes by, the prospects for landing in safe, loving, permanent homes grow dimmer for foster youth. Many will simply “age out” of the system when they turn 18, without a family and without the skills to make it on their own.” -Children’sRights.org

During my senior year of 2007, intending to graduate with a high school diploma, instead I received a “Certificate of Attendance,” for not passing one portion, history, of the Alabama High School Graduation Exam. Therefore, the school principal at the time granted permission for me to walk with my fellow senior class of 2007 on “Graduation Day,” being the second foster youth in the graduating class of a total of 36 students, I was one of a few to not receive a high school diploma.

At the beginning of my senior year, my fourth year being in Alabama Foster Care, my mother regained contact with me, for the first time since age eleven. My foster parents at the time, quickly became jealous of the fact that she was trying to salvage any type of forgiveness. She initially contacted me because she was sick, due to alcoholism and liver failure. It was hard for me to establish or reconnect with my biological mother because of my foster parents mentality of keeping us apart. Foster Care should conclude the fact of trying to bring the families back together and reconnect, my foster parents and the Department of Human Resources robbed me from the only chance I would ever have of that sense of peace.

Initially, my mother and I would go back and forth talking with the little time I had. October 10th of 2007, I get a phone call from my step father, nine days after turning 18, he said that my mother was in a coma, and wasn’t going to make it much longer. If I wanted to say my peace, I would have to do it as soon as possible. The next day, somehow my school principal at the time heard my situation and came up with enough funds to transport me and my foster parent to Washington State, where my mother resided. Unfortunately, my foster parent and the Department of Human Resources thought it was in my best interest to not go to an environment such as this. Not only did DHR and my foster parents take away the second chance I had to say good bye to a parent. They made me say my peace of forgiveness over the phone! The first one, I was robbed blind with any chance of peace, from the child traffickers.

All through-out my senior year, I became extremely depressed, uninterested in socializing, school work became a huge weight on my shoulders, averaging at low C. The high school I attended, is an extremely rural area, which consist of a vast amount of hardships for foster youths of different cultural backgrounds and ethnicity’s. Trying to fit in was difficult being in a small town. For example, when I became depressed, I would go to school, I felt like I became a ghost to everyone in my senior class for having anxiety, bi-polar depression, PTSD and the hardships I was facing. I became so nervous and anxious, I would not eat anything for days.

“Most youth in foster care have traumatic family histories and life experiences (including the removal from their birthfamily) that result in an increased risk for mental health disorders. A study of children in foster care revealed that posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was diagnosed in 60% of sexually abused children and in 42% of the physically abused children (Dubner & Motta, 1999). The study also found that 18% of foster children who had not experienced either type of abuse had PTSD, possibly because of exposure to domestic or community violence (Marsenich, 2002). –

There was no outlet, no friends, no communication, no support. The average high school student was worrying about what they wanted to wear for Senior Prom, I didn’t want to go to my senior prom, it was a last minute decision. Being a foster youth, my normal of worried consisted of continuous loss, trying to find answers going beyond what information DHR had”

Working at a grocery store for a short while I was in foster care, I had saved enough money to request my fathers death certificate, toxocolgy report and information of his death. (my foster parents bought me a vehicle to be intended for use of school, events and hopefully college one day) My foster parents at the time, thought it was in their best interest to sell the vehicle because of financial issues. They told me I had to quit my job and ride the bus to school. They simply were taking their anger out on me because I did not want to be adopted by them.  I became my own Private Detective, researching everything I could of information pertaining to his death. The Department of Human Resources did not help in any way shape or form trying to reconnect my family back together. My first foster family saw how in distress I was with not being able to reconnect with my biological family in California. Fortunately, my foster parent knew what 411 was…and we were finally able to connect with family by using a simple resource. They had the chance to give a foster youth some sort of peace and they took that away.

Although the Keffeler decision supports states’ practice of using SSI and other Social Security benefits for reimbursement of foster care, some child advocates assert that by using these benefits to reimburse the cost of foster care, the state agency denies the child beneficiaries funding that rightly belongs to them. Advocates also raise concern that child welfare agencies are often automatically assigned as the representative payee for foster children. On the other hand, child welfare agencies and advocates argue that if states were not able to use benefits to pay for a child’s foster care, they would stop screening children to determine their eligibility for these Social Security programs. They further raise the concern that if a foster child’s SSI benefits were allowed to accumulate in a savings account, the child would soon surpass the “means test” for SSI and would lose eligibility for the benefits. -greenbook.waysandmeans.house.gov

 

Currently in Alabama, there are approximately 5000 children in foster care. Getting back on my feet with the help and compassion of friends, I had a steady job, a roof over my head and I felt it was needed to apply for food stamps.

By the end of my senior year, I lost both parents, failed my high school graduation exam, had no money, no transportation, no support system (nor friends or family) and my foster parents did not want anything to do with me, as they told me, “I’m not daughter material and I will never be.” The Department of Human Resources stated that if I wanted to exit the foster system, I was to uphold I steady job and place to live, with letters of recommendations to go with. Well, I met a potential roommate who would let me rent a room for a reasonable price and I located a job at a local food restaurant in Troy, AL. It didn’t work out with the job because of transportation and I had called and applied everywhere I could think of, without transportation.

My roommate had my belongings on the side of the curb for me to come pick up because I had lost my job. Luckily, I had met good people I socialized with on a daily basis, and they helped me store my belongings in an extra place they had for free, until I go back on my feet again. I stayed on friends couches until, extended family from Pennsylvania sent a plane ticket for me to stay with them, since I had nowhere to go and I was homeless. I went to Pennsylvania for part of the summer, to help clear my head and study to retake my AHSGE at the end of the summer.

Returning to Alabama with twenty dollars in my pocket, I received my old high school job back as a cashier. I was able to stay with friends and save money for an apartment. Eventually, I found a roommate through a coworker at the grocery store I worked at. We became friends and roommates. I met my husband through my past roommate on a blind date and we’ve been together, being a decade. We fell in love with each other quickly, I moved in with him within a couple of months of dating, things got serious fast. He was going through a hardship and I was also at the time. We found a certain healing in each other and still are establishing everyday. He has helped me attain my G.E.D., buying a car, establishing credit, pursuing my education, mental and physical support and guidance, adding the most important thing he gave me the unconditional love that I needed.

The day after I received my “Certificate of Attendance,” which is described as, not passing a portion of the Alabama High School Graduation, my foster parents and the Department of Human Resources left me being the most vulnerable eighteen year old. It was my responsibility to seek my own resources for finding a job for income, placement and education. Seven months prior to being aged out of the foster system, I was legally by definition an “Orphan.” Seeking the necessary mental health felt that was not an option at that point in time.

If I could give any advice for foster youth reading this, knowledge is power. Be your own private detective within certain boundaries and don’t ever give up. All foster youth deserve a full education from our state. Education and your foster youth rights matter and are deserved. Fight it and you will conquer. 465aae4d46cfe5ea2d4ae96179b06b52.jpg

Resources for Alabama Foster Youth: 
College: 
Alabama Education and Training Voucher
http://www.fc2sprograms.org/alabama/
Alabama@statevoucher.org For more information, please call 800-585-7009×1

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