By Libby Smith
DENVER (CBS4) – When a teen in foster care makes it to graduation, that deserved a big celebration, and that’s exactly what the Colorado Department of Human Services does. The Office of Children, Youth & Families puts on the Celebration of Educational Excellence ceremony every spring especially for graduates in foster and kinship care.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity for us to applaud great success for these students. Children in foster care have had a very, very challenging time,” said Kim Huncer Reed, executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education.
Only one-percent of foster care teens make it to graduation, and only one in three will graduate from college. The large majority of these kids drop out of school, severely hurting their earning potential.
“If 74-percent of our jobs will require a credential beyond high school, we know that that means that very few of the prospering job, the jobs that have a living wage, are available to individuals that have less than high school,” Huncer Reed explained.
The Celebration of Educational Excellence ceremony is more than “Pomp and Circumstance”. It has style. There’s a drum line, and Native American dancers, and about 140 students who beat the odds to be there.
“I almost gave up a lot of time,” said Celeste, an 18-year-old foster care youth.
Celeste spent 4-years in foster care, and like so many children in foster care she said that she felt isolated and alone.
“I didn’t have nobody, so I felt depressed a lot of the time. I cried because I needed like somebody, and I don’t have nobody to talk to,” Celeste said.
In a world where she felt like an intruder in other people’s homes, going to school was just another burden. Only one in three teens in foster care graduates from high school. Hayley Hunt is one of them. Hunt was the keynote speaker at the Celebration of Educational Excellence ceremony in June. Hunt talked about how she used school to escape her family life.
“I kept beating myself up, like maybe if I were a better daughter to my parents, they wouldn’t do this, and would do better in school,” Hunt told CBS4.
CBS4 SPECIAL REPORTS: Aging Out
Hunt got one of the many scholarships available for foster care students. She’s currently on a full-ride at the University of Colorado Boulder. She’ll graduate with a degree in psychology with no student loan debt.
“I want to get my masters in social work. I definitely want to do something in foster care,” Hunt explained.
“Being in foster care, probably my most fear was like to end up by myself and end up on the street,” Celeste told CBS4.
It was that fear that drove Celeste beyond the depression and back to the classroom.
“I want to show my siblings they can do more, to not listen to other people, like what they say and they put you down, you just got to keep your head up,” she said.
Now the 18-year-old is walking across the stage as a high school graduate with a plan to go to college for nursing.
“When I went to foster care, they took me to the hospital and the nurse there, she lift me up when I was sad. I feel a connection,” Celeste explained. “And I wanted to have that with other people who need help.”
The following are helpful resources for people who are aging out of foster care and for the people who care for them.
Colorado Child Abuse and Neglect Public Awareness Campaign
Child Abuse & Neglect Hotline
Learn more about foster care and adoption in Colorado.
United Way Bridging the Gap
helping teens live on their own after foster care
Dream Makers Project
making dreams come true for former foster care youth
life skills program provided through human services dept. of each county
CBS4 Wednesday’s Child Section
The Adoption Exchange
promoting adoption for foster care youth
Adoption Exchange’s Birthday Wishes Program
Office of the Lt. Governor
SOAR! Youth & Adult Choir
soaryouthandadultchoir.org 720-218-1433 (Youth)
Libby Smith is a Special Projects Producer at CBS4. If you have a story you’d like to tell CBS4 about, call 303-863-TIPS (8477) or visit the News Tips section.