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Programs target older foster youth

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For someone who has always had a supportive family – whether that means growing up with caring biological or adopted parents or permanent guardians – it’s easy to take for granted that if a car breaks down, if emergency funds are suddenly needed, or if there’s a holiday or vacation coming up, someone will be there.

But for foster youth who are about to age out of the system or have already done so, there often is no support system. That decreases one’s chance of getting a good education and increases the likelihood that the former foster youth will end up homeless or become involved in illegal activity and be arrested after aging out.

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 through programs and outreach efforts.

Why older youth?

Not only do older foster youth have different needs than younger foster children, if older youth don’t have the right guidance, their futures, statistically, are also at risk.

Nationally, about 25,000 people between the ages of 18 and 21 leave foster care each year, according to statistics from Casey Family Programs. In Indiana in 2009, approximately 435 children in foster care turned 18 and faced aging out of the system without a permanent family, according to the Indiana Office of GAL/CASA.

About 25 percent of former foster youth nationwide have reported they were homeless within two to four years of leaving foster care, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.
 

dunn-leslie-mug Dunn

As far as educational opportunities, they are more than twice as likely not to have a high school diploma or GED as their peers, and they are 14 times more likely not to complete college than the general population, according to a Chapin Hall Midwest Study.

The unemployment rate among foster care alumni was 47 percent, according to that same study, and only half of young adults have medical insurance after aging out of foster care. While in foster care, youth are eligible to receive Medicaid benefits, but they’re at risk of losing this coverage when they age out.

Youth who have aged out of foster care also have a significant chance of reentering the court system, this time as defendants. Of youth who participated in the Chapin Hall Midwest Study, at age 21, 30 percent reported they had been arrested, 15 percent reported they had been convicted of a crime, and 29 percent reported they had been incarcerated.

Regarding mental health, about 25 percent of foster care alumni experience post traumatic stress disorders, while only 4 percent of the general population experience PTSD, according to a Northwest Foster Care Alumni Survey.

Making a difference

To help change these outcomes, the National Court Appointed Special Advocates program started a pilot program called Fostering Futures which trains volunteer CASAs on the needs of older foster youth ages 14 to 21. The Indiana Office of GAL/CASA is one of 16 sites around the country that started the training program this summer; it wraps up in March.

Directors of CASA offices around the state suggested volunteers to Teresa Christopher, program director for Indiana Office of GAL/CASA. Using what they learned at the training, the 76 CASA volunteers have so far advocated for more than 100 youth in Indiana. Another 25 CASA volunteers will be trained early next year, Christopher said.


christopher-teresa-mug Christopher

Part of the program is a “possible selves tree.” Branches reflect how the youth is perceived, typically showing how the person sees himself as a person and as a student.

Off of the branches are smaller branches. One youth included “stay in school, graduate, stay out of trouble,” to be successful as a student. To be successful as a person, he wrote “be outgoing, a good friend, kind, and sincere,” Christopher said while reading one of the trees.

The trees also have roots, which are what “help to stabilize the tree or to make them strong,” like an emotional support system, Christopher said. Negative influences are represented as rocks or lightning rods, and these could include things like using drugs or making bad choices when it comes to friends. She said in some cases, the rocks and lightning rods could be negative influences from the person’s family, such as an abusive parent.

Christopher has heard that the children, for the most part, are appreciative of the opportunity to go over what they need to know to succeed. A few children, however, have been apprehensive about the process, usually because they are unsure what their roots are if they don’t have much of a support system in place.

Leslie Dunn, director of Indiana Office of GAL/CASA, added this gets to the heart of the role of the CASA, even when the youth have multiple case managers and others who don’t necessarily focus on these issues while working with them.

“This is the kind of thing parents would talk to their children about, but many of these children don’t have someone to do that with them,” she said.

In addition to filling out the tree diagram, the CASA volunteer will complete a needs assessment, including resources for the young person in the categories of education, employment, housing, life skills, supportive relationships, community resources, and physical and behavioral health, Christopher added.

Another way the Indiana Office of GAL/CASA is helping older foster youth is through an initiative that promotes more involvement by these young people in their own cases, including family team meetings, permanency planning, and court proceedings.

Dunn said there has been resistance in some counties – the place where the decision is ultimately made as to how involved the youth are in their own cases. She said that one former foster youth told her that because this was about his future, he should be able to attend court hearings.

For youth who can’t attend court but still want to participate, Dunn added Indiana GAL/CASA has shared a sample “Youth Report to the Court” form for county CASA programs to use if they want to do something similar.

Tiffany Coleman, who as a foster youth lived with her half-sister’s aunt from the time she was 16 until she aged out of the system, agreed that older foster youth have different issues and said when she was in the system, it was often difficult.

She explained that seemingly simple things, like getting a driver’s license, are incredibly difficult as a foster youth. She said she already had her license, but she knew of other older foster children who had difficulty in getting one, mainly because their foster parents didn’t want to sign off for them.

Not having a license in turn affects one’s prospects for employment if they don’t have reliable transportation, she said.

Another difficulty she said former foster youth could face involved the independent living counselor. Because she was moving to Bloomington for college, she had to switch to an independent living counselor in Bloomington. She said by then she knew how to live independently, but could understand that not all 18 year olds understand how to go grocery shopping, pay rent, and pay bills.

She added that even though she was staying with her half-sister’s aunt before college, she didn’t always know if she would be able to stay there over breaks, and she couldn’t always afford to pay a daily rate to stay on campus when the regular dorm she lived in was closed.

To address issues like this, Alishea Hawkins, permanency manager of the Department of Child Services, said she has been working directly with colleges and universities. So far, Ball State University and Ivy Tech campuses in east central Indiana have offered foster youth year-round housing options.

“This can be a huge barrier for many young people, especially for someone at a school farther away from their hometown,” she said.

Hawkins added efforts have always been made to find host families willing to take in college students over school breaks, and there are various independent living funds available for foster youth who have aged out of the system to help pay for rent and other living expenses. While these programs aren’t brand new, she said DCS has been making a bigger push to educate case workers and others who work with foster youth about their existence.

Together, these programs will hopefully make a difference, Dunn said.

“These children may have never had anybody in their life who cared about them. It sounds hokey, but it’s completely serious. … It’s so moving for them to have that person who cares about their future,” she said.•

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  1. Am I the only one who sees that the City is essentially giving away the MSA site AND giving millions to build new buildings on the site when this site would be the perfect place for the Justice Complex? Across from City-County, check; keeping it centrally located, check, etc. It's my understanding that the GM site must be purchased by the City from Motors Liquidation Company. STOP WASTING WHAT WE ALREADY HAVE AND OUR TAX DOLLARS! The Ballard Administration has not been known for it's common sense...never voted for him and never will!

  2. This guy sounds like the classic molester/manipulator.

  3. Louis D. Brandeis was born in 1856. At 9 years of age it would have been 1865. The Brandeis family did not own slaves. My source Louis D. Brandeis: A Life, by Melvin L. Urofsky.

  4. My name is Matthew Lucas Major, I recently went through a jury trial in Bloomington , In. It was the week of Feb 19-21. Although I have been incarcerated since August 5, 2014. The reason I 'am writing to you sir is on the 21 of February the jury came in with a very excessive and wrongful verdict of guilty on 6 child molesting charges against my daughter who was 9 at the time I was accused. I also had 2 other Felonies one of Intimidation and 1 of Sexual Vicarious Gratification. Judge Marc Kellam on the second day of trial gave me a not guilty on those 2 felonies. The jury was sent out during that time and when brought back Judge Kellam told them to not concern themselves with the 2 Felonies that he ruled on them. They were told to not let evidence they had already heard influence there verdicts. I never in my life touched any child sexually and definitely not with my own daughter. When I was arrested Detective Shawn Karr told me I would be convicted guilty just on my daughters word even without evidence. That's just what happened. my public defender did me so wrong he never once proved to the court and jury all the lies the child told, and Jeremy Noel my public defender could of proven the lies easily. The stories in Serenity's depositions and Forensic interview changed and were not consistent as Prosecutor Darcie Fawcett claimed they were. Yet my attorney never mentioned that. The facts that the child accused me of full penetration in her vagina and rectum was proven lies. Doctor Roberta Hibbard of Riley hospital in Indianapolis confirmed Serenity's hymen intact, no scars, no tearing, no signs of rape to her. Yet my attorney didn't use that knowledge . the DNA was all in my favor. I tell you I will spend my entire life in prison going through rape and beatings etc. even Judge Kellam abused his authority by telling the jurors to listen and believe what the prosecutors side in evidence like my daughters testimony. In one interview with the detectives my daughter got flustered with her mom and said on camera " I'm saying what you told me to mom"!! Yet Mr. Noel said nor did anything to even resemble a defense attorney. Judge Kellam allowed edited version of a taped conversation between the child and her mother. Also Judge Kellam allowed the Prosecutor too bring in to my case a knife found under my seat, the knife wasn't part of my case. She was allowed by my attorney and the judge to put a huge picture of it on the screen and huge picture of my naked privates in a full courtroom and open court. Ms. Fawcett says to jury see how easy Mr. Major could reach the knife and cut his Childs throat. Even though I had no weapons charge against these cases. This gave the jurors prejudice thought against me thinking I threatened her with that knife and how scared she would of been knowing i could get it and kill her. On my sentencing court March 19, 2014 my public defender told Judge Kellam he wish to resign from being my attorney and wished for the court to give me outside council to file a error to trial or appeal. We were denied. Now after openly knowing my public defender don't want to represent me he has to. Well when as parents we make our kids clean a room when they really don't wish to, well the child will but don't mean she will do a good job, that's where I'm at with Mr. Noel. please dont ignore mine and my families pleas for your help . we have all the legal proof you could need to prove Im innocent. Please dont make my spend years in prison innocent when you can fix this wrong. Im not saying Im a perfect man or that I was a perfect dad to my 2 children none of us are. Ive made some bad choices in life and I paid for them. But I didnt ever touch or rape my daughter . I love my children with all my heart. And now through needing attention and a ex-wife who told my granny several times she wish she could put me in prison to get me out of their lives. Well my ex finally accomplished her goal. Sad part is she is destroying our daughter with all this horrific lies and things she taught my daughter to say. My daughter will need therapist to ever hope for a chance of a normal life after what she had done to her by her mom and their side of the family. My daughter told everyone even on stand she had a dream months before i supposedly molested her in this dream I was molesting her and when I finally did it matched her dream perfectly. She admitted to watching movies about little girls being molested and watching U-Tube videos about child molesting all before it happened supposedly to her. Doesn't that sound very unusual that a non molested 9 yr old would need to know so much about being molested? The only reason I could think a 9 year old would need so much information is to be prepared to know what to say and be able to say how it felt what took place etc.. So when questioned by authorities she would be prepared. And there again sir if a parent is pre grooming a 9 year old child she would need intimate details . Like telling her daughter about a couple moles on my private area. The child admitted to sneaking my cell and looking many many times at nudes of me and my girlfriend even one where my penis was entering my girlfriends vagina. In that picture my moles are obvious. Yet when prosecutor showed everyone in court my privates and pictures of the moles she said the only way the child would know about them is if she saw them for herself. My attorney once again said nothing about the pictures my child saw. Or could a ex-wife be able to describe my moles to help her case against getting rid of me? I beg you help me. This is my very existence. Ive lost everything , a good job, a wonderful girlfriend, my freedom, but worse thing Ive lost is my children. They were my reason to get up every morning and strive to be better. The wonderful bond I had with my Serenity is gone. After this I would be afraid to even hug her for fear of what next can they do to me. I'm not afraid to tell you I sit here in this cell and try to hold back my tears. Everyone knows you cant show weakness in prison. My life has already been threatened here at Wabash Valley Prison. After only 3 days of arrival. I was tricked into signing a waiver now Im in G Block General Population with 6 child molesting felony charges. Mrs. Hart as a 18 year old I almost died hooked to machines in hospital almost 1 month and now I know that fear was childish compared to this . I cant help but put emotions in this, after all Mrs. Hart Im human and God help Me I never been more afraid in my life. I didnt hurt my little girl I didnt touch her sexually. As much as it shreds me and fills my mind what Im facing I worry more about my mom and granny because of their great love for me mam they are suffering so deeply. I aint done this things but my loved ones suffering right along beside me and If you take my case you will be in essence freeing them also. I sent momma this letter and asked her to email it to you. I'm scared I have been done so unjustly by our legal system and I need you to fix this and give me freedom. I ask you please don't just ignore my pleas. Here in America its nice to be able to trust our legal justice system, well they destroyed my and my loved ones trust in our justice system . And I'm trusting in You !!! My entire family is suffering this nightmare with me. My 77 year old granny had a stroke and isn't doing so well. My single mother that raised 3 kids alone is dying from Lupus and since my arrest has stayed so sick and weary. Our lives torn to peices by a government I was taught I could trust in. my momma has tried so many innocent project and wrongfully accused and cant get anywhere. please please help me. A quote from the late Nelson Mandela: To be free is not merely to cast off ones chains, But to live in a way that respects and enhances The Freedom Of Others. I have Faith in you and your clinic to cast my chains off and give me freedom I do deserve as a wrongfully accused Man, son, brother, father, friend. Matthew Major DOC# 246179 Cause # : 53c02-1308-FA-000779 God Bless you. Please contact me with your decision so I know you made a life changing decision for me , just please at least write me so I know you care enough about your citizens to respond to cries for your help. You can speak openly with my mother Charlotte Spain (828) 476-0406: 71 Lakeview Dr. Canton, NC 28716 Thank You Matthew Major I know yall get thousands of request and inmates claiming innocence, and each person who are innocent deserve to have organizations like yours willing to fight for them and I give yall so much Thanks and I thank God everyday yall are out there caring enough to help free the innocents. Since discovering firsthand how easily lives and families can be destroyed by Poor Defense attorneys not doing their job . And Prosecutors allowed to do as they please in court

  5. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

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