By Libby Smith
DENVER (CBS4) – As CBS4 worked on its series on “Aging Out”, reporter Britt Moreno talked to many former foster care youth who wished for changes in the child welfare system. Many said that they were going to work toward making those changes in the future. One of CBS4’s goals for the project was to be a catalyst for that change, so Moreno invited Lieutenant Governor Donna Lynne to join a conversation about what kinds of changes need to be made.
Moreno and Lynne sat down for taped conversation with Tai and Kristina, two former foster care youth. Each of them left the child welfare system at the age of 18, and both women completely opened up about the struggles they’ve faced.
“I actually ended up being homeless for a little bit, living in my car, when I was pregnant with my son, because I didn’t have anybody. But I made it through the system, so I knew I could make it through everything else,” Kristina said.
“Well, I had originally wanted to be adopted. The plan was never for me to go back home or anything like that. I think I was like 16, and I was like, ‘I really want to be adopted. That’s all I want, all I want is a family.’ But they [her caseworker and others on her case] were like, ‘You need to focus on saving up money.’” Tai explained.
The conversation turned to group homes. Tai and Kristina shared what it was like to live in that setting.
“I lived with anywhere from 3 to 8 girls at one time… a clash of personalities 100-percent. Four of us in one room, three of us in another room downstairs,” Kristina described.
CBS4 SPECIAL REPORTS: Aging Out
“The thing I disliked the most was having to ask to use the restroom or to go past a certain point in the house. So you had the living room usually and past that you had to ask to go anywhere,” Tai explained.
Lynne talked about the short supply of foster parents and families willing to adopt.
“It’s not easy to find people to do either one of those things, so the group home provides another way of doing it, than having a single family adopt or bringing you into foster care. So it could be a supply issue, versus a strategy as you say. Theoretically, you might say, ‘Hey, having all these girls together with the same problems should be great because you can empathize.’ But I can also see that there’s a lot of conflict, right?” Lynne said.
“A lot of conflict, yes,” Kristina confirmed.
“You know I get to meet these kids in foster care every week, and one of the things they tell me regularly is how challenging it is to get transferred to different schools,” said Moreno.
“Yes absolutely. From the time I was in second grade or so, I’ve been in about 7 different schools. So all the credits transferred differently. Some of them didn’t transfer so I had to just do a whole bunch of summer work sometimes,” Tai said.
As the conversation continued, the Lt. Governor addressed concerns about cuts in funding for kids in foster care.
“Governor Hickenlooper has been pretty clear that whatever happens in Washington, we’re going to preserve healthcare benefits for all the people in Colorado who were covered by what we call the Affordable Care Act Expansion. So it would include people who are on Medicaid and certainly what we call CHIP, which is the children’s health program,” Lynne said.
“How does it make you feel hearing these words?” Moreno asked.
“So good. So relieved,” both women answered.
“I’m glad that somebody is able to advocate for the little people,” Tai said.
“Do you feel it is safe to say, there really isn’t a good support network for kids who age out of foster care?” Moreno asked.
“That’s very true and it’s very unfortunate, because in foster care it’s this team of people working and trying to get you to a place they think you need to be. And then as you age out, or maybe you’re going back to your family, it becomes this thing of, “Now I have no one,’” Kristina said.
“Well, I want to adopt both of you,” Lynne said and everyone laughed.
While there were lighter moments in the conversation, it was the young women’s hope for the future that was really touching.
“I just hope that they can see that there is light at the end of the tunnel, and there is more opportunities. You aren’t just a statistic. You are more than a foster kid, and I feel like people need to tell foster youth that, and just let them know that they are humans. They deserve to be happy, and that we as people are willing to fight for them,” said Tai.
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.