Friday, June 13, 2008

It is a warm, sunny evening in southeastern San Diego County. The crowd in the football stadium is raucous and ready to stand up and cheer. This is not, however, pre-game festivities for a football game, but rather the last moments before the official beginning of adulthood for a group of high school seniors, among them one male foster child who is also celebrating his 18th birthday. How he came to be sitting in that stadium, with assorted biological family members, group home staff, CASA support staff, social workers, and two CASAs waiting to cheer him as he walked across the dais, is the story I want to tell you today.

This young man – we’ll call him B - came into the system at age 13 having lived most of his young life without much parental involvement or supervision. He had learned a lot about life and very little about love. He was immediately placed in a group home, separated from his siblings, and started at a new school. B transferred between multiple group homes and two foster homes in the time between 2003 when he entered the system and now, and no one was particularly interested in making sure he had a plan for the future or even any motivation to do well in school. This story might have had an ending similar to that of so many foster children who go through their childhood without love or encouragement and end up homeless or back with the families they were removed from originally, if not for the involvement of a caring adult named Genevieve.

I first met Genevieve in a classroom at Voices for Children (San Diego’s CASA organization) in October, 2004, when both of us volunteered to advocate on behalf of B’s family. As their cases were split with four on one case and one on the other, Genevieve became the legal voice for four children who were hurting, who seldom saw one another, and who distrusted adults intensely (with good reason). Slowly, painstakingly, she built loving, strong relationships with her charges, founded on trust and the realization that she would never promise what she could not deliver. For B in particular, this relationship would change his life forever.

Genevieve made sure that B’s school records were consolidated and that he got credit for the classes he had taken in the past at previous schools. She supported his love of football, basketball, and volleyball, making sure that his siblings and support system of friends and extended family knew when games or matches were scheduled so that he could always count on friendly faces in the crowd. She helped him reach out to biological family members that he had not seen since entering the dependency system, re-establishing important relationships.

As the wounds of his childhood began to heal, he began to think about what he might do as an adult and he once again turned to Genevieve for her inspiration, (perspiration!), and encouragement. Together they navigated the FAFSA (Financial Aid application) and multiple college applications before deciding on two years at a junior college prior to transferring to Ucla with a goal of becoming a Pharmacist. Genevieve did some research and found that there was a transitional housing unit (specifically for emancipating foster youth) near the college, so B went for an interview and was accepted into a program that will have him paying rent on a sliding scale beginning at $100 each month and gradually increasing over time. He is now in the process of enrolling for classes and turning his new apartment into a home – quite the change in less than four years. With perseverance and patience, Genevieve has helped this broken child grow into a young man of enormous promise and strong character.

Every child in California’s foster care system deserves a Genevieve. Studies continue to show that the presence of a caring, consistent adult role model is a significant predictor of future success for not just foster children but for every child. Even if we cannot identify a funding source, we can lay the foundation for an eventual state-wide network of caring, committed adults to help these children move forward with their dreams. If the fates of the 7,000 children who will emancipate from our state's foster system this year are important to you, take a moment to write to your Assembly Member and State Senator to ask them to support or create legislation in favor of Transition Mentors for all foster children ages 13-16. The pricetag will be high, but the price of doing nothing is much higher.

2 comments:

kitty said...

this is another reason I want to get myself together and get healthy - I would LOVE to be a foster parent or help foster children in some way
or even adopt otherwise 'unwanted' kids

anyway this story made me cry - happy tears of course =)

Sueellen said...

What an incredible story, thanks for sharing!