Care Packages Replace Traditional Luggage

The article below recently appeared in the newspaper for a project I began:

November 19th was a great day for former foster child turned author and activist Larry Adams of North Dakota.

It was also a tremendous day for local youth that unfortunately may need to enter foster care.

It was the culmination of the first drive to collect and package merchandise to be distributed to youth going into care was held.

“It was the start of the project I have been working on to get started for the past several months titled “Dignity and Hope Project”,” said Adams. “Funding was received to purchase 200, 30″ nylon duffel bags as youth prefer these over suitcases.”

These bags will be able to hold a large quantity of personal property of youth entering care, said Adams.

“Funding was further received to purchase material to make “tie blankets” or buy “quilt blankets” to go into each of the bags,” stated Adams. “Based on the type and style of the blankets determined if each bag was for a young girl or boy or an older boy or girl and each bag was marked accordingly.”

In each bag, in addition to the blanket, was packed with new soap, toothpaste/toothbrush, deodorant, comb or hairbrush, pencils, pens, a book, crayons, and coloring books for younger youth as well as stuffed animals for younger children, notepads, lotions, mirrors for older girls as well as some costume jewelry which was received from a variety of donors including a collection conducted by the local high school.

“The bags will be distributed in the next few weeks to the local Department of Health and Human Services (DHS) offices as well as Lutheran Family & Children Services to give to each youth upon their entering the foster care system,” Adams explained. “We hope each youth will feel a sense of dignity and hope receiving the bags and realize someone cares about them.”

 

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Photo of youth making “tie Blankets”, photo is blurry to protect the identity of foster youth who had volunteered

Adams spent his entire youth in foster care experiencing 14 moves by the age of eleven. At age eleven he was sent to the famed “Boys Town” in Nebraska where he remained until he aged out at eighteen and graduated from Boys Town High School. Each time he was moved his property packed in brown paper grocery bags. Adams, said he knows what it feels like to pack your belongings in a paper bag or the plastic garbage bags used for many years. He said he always felt degraded, humiliated and as a second class citizen. 

Adams, said those participating in the project had only expected the local group of Jim Casey Youth Leadership to assist in the packaging (12-15 youth) but was surprised when the local high school Honor Society also showed up to assist.

“This group also agreed to spearhead a collection drive at their high school some time in the spring for future “love packs” for foster youth,” said Adams. “What was expected to be a three-hour packaging time turned out to last only an hour due to the high number of volunteers assisting us.”

A pizza lunch at a local pizzeria was held for all those who assisted when the job was complete which was greatly appreciated by all, said Adams.

“This will be an on-going project since unfortunately there are always youth entering care and it is hoped we will be able to expand to other areas of the state as time marches on,” he said. “All in all it was a great day and I am so happy to see the project near and dear to my heart get off the ground with such success.”

Adams, author of Lost Son? A Bastard Child”s Journey of Hope, Search, Discovery, and Healing, said it humbled him to see the number of people willing to assist by donating funds, merchandise, or in packaging.

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Teen Won’t Let Foster Care be His Legacy!!!

I read this article in the Detroit Free Press the other evening after getting my daily “foster care” alert. Reading Alex’s story made my chest swell up in pride for him and anyone who has been placed on the foster care merry-go-round and not allowed it to overwhelm them, make them want to make themselves a victim and determined that foster care will NOT be what defines them for the rest of their lives.

This young man’s insight and determination is absoluting amzing!

I think every foster parent should have youth in their care (age appropriate) read this article to encourage them that they to can be all they want to be no matter what society may think of foster youth.

We have not heard the last from Alex!

I thank the Detroit Free Press for highlighting such a youth in a feature article in their Sunday edition.

Fiercely determined teen refuses to let foster-care situation define him
BY JEFF SEIDEL • FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER • January 4, 2009

Alex

Alex

A 17-year-old ward of the state sat at a computer in Grosse Pointe Woods writing the most important letter of his life. It was a sales pitch to 30 prospective foster care parents in the Rochester Hills area. He’d found them by searching through court records and legal documents. He was begging for a place to live. Begging for a chance to follow his dreams. On a spring day in 2008, he picked the families from the documents and wrote to them, all strangers.

“I’m sure you’ve never received a letter of this nature before, and I’m also quite sure you will be surprised, albeit unpleasantly, at the circumstances under which I am writing this letter.”

His father left the country when he was a toddler, he explained. His mother’s parental rights were terminated.

“My name is Alex, and I am a junior, soon to be senior, at Stoney Creek High School in Rochester Hills. I found your name and contact information after quite a bit of rigorous searching, strangely enough on a business listing Web site since ‘Foster Care’ is technically a public service business.”

An honor roll student, Alex wanted to graduate from Stoney Creek and go to Harvard. Or Columbia. Or Stanford. Or New York University. Or the University of Michigan. But he had a problem. After bouncing through eight foster placements, he was sent to live at Children’s Home of Detroit in Grosse Pointe Woods. He was afraid that he would have to change schools for the third time in four years. All he wanted was to get back to Stoney Creek.

The school meant everything to him. It was more than a building; it was his home. The teachers and counselors and students and secretaries and principal at Stoney Creek had become his family.

So he kept writing his letter, trying to sell himself.

“I suppose this is where I should delve into a brief summary of my life, for your own understanding of my situation.”

It is highly unusual for a child to do his own research to try to find a foster parent, but everything about Alex is unusual.

He has a 3.95 grade point average on a 4-point scale and is on track to become a National Merit Scholar. He nearly aced the ACT, receiving a 35, one point below a perfect score. And he scored 2,330 on the SAT — only 70 points below a perfect score.

“He is extremely intelligent,” said Richard Strenger, the Lake Orion lawyer who has represented Alex for more than a year. “I don’t know what his IQ level is, but I would guess it’s at the genius level. He is more impressive considering the adversity he has gone through. He’s very, very impressive.”

“My parents divorced when I was 2 years old, and I have not heard from my father since.”

Alex was born in Romania. As an infant, he moved to the United States with his mother and father. “He ended up getting deported back to Romania and I haven’t heard from him since,” Alex said of his dad. “I don’t even remember him.”

Alex’s mother earned a doctorate in computer science engineering and started teaching at a local university.

“She was a really good parent,” Alex said. “She would take time to not just help me with my homework but teach me the next chapter and the next chapter after that.

“She was very compassionate. She had a strong moral compass and I feel like she instilled that in me. I think that’s the reason I turned out the way I did,” he said.

“My mother was a nurturing and loving person, to which I credit my early start on a path of academics until she suffered a closed-head injury from a car accident and developed bipolar disorder.”

Alex said that after the accident, his mother changed. They fought constantly. He was first removed from his mother’s custody in 2001.

He said it was shocking to see “someone so smart and intelligent” who was suddenly “unable to focus her eyes on you, shaking back and forth, unable to speak, and slurring words.”

“I was removed from her multiple times and placed in foster care only to be returned to her when she returned to temporary stability.”

He bounced through a series of foster placements. One time, when he was in the eighth grade, his mother went through a “spell,” as Alex calls them. They lost their home.

“I went back to the apartment and found all my stuff scattered across the lawn,” Alex said.

He was taken in for a short time by the principal at a Bloomfield Hills middle school. It was one example of countless times that Oakland County school administrators, counselors and teachers went out of their way to give Alex a safety net.

“I was relieved to have someplace to go home to,” Alex said. “I gathered up as much stuff as I could into a van. It was a really sad day, but it was pretty moving too. A bunch of my teachers and neighbors helped me move my stuff into a van and gather everything up.”

Her rights were terminated last year because of physical neglect and improper supervision, according to Aretha Lewis, his caseworker at Lutheran Social Services.

“While I do feel quite sad for how tragic events have transpired, I think it was in both of our best interests to pursue normalcy in our own lives prior to maintaining a family relationship.”

Alex developed a rubber soul, able to bounce back from anything, forced to adapt to countless experiences and people.

Alex

Alex

“I’m a good kid with no criminal or negative behavior record, but more visibly I am an excellent student. … My most fervent dream is to be accepted to an Ivy League school, and I actually have the intellectual and emotional capacity to do so.”

Every time he was placed in a new home, there was a strong attempt by Rochester school counselors to keep him at Stoney Creek.

“My school means everything to me. When chaos reigned at home, I immersed myself in my studies and my friends, forging strong bonds of compassion and support.”

Alex has built relationships with many people at Stoney Creek. For his birthday last year, school secretaries got him a cake. “Alex is one of our favorites, a star,” said principal Dan Hickey. “We’ve worked really hard with him.”

Colette Judge has been Alex’s counselor since his freshman year. She saw a bright student with potential, who needed some tender, loving care. “This is his home,” Judge said. “This is the only constant that he’s had. I’m a mom and I treat him like one of my kids.”

“Truly all I need is someplace to stay, even if I have to pay a couple hundred dollars a month in rent, for the 2008-2009 school year.”

During the summer, a new family came forward. Alex moved in one day before school started and is now finishing his final year at the school he loves.

Suzanne, his foster mother, said Alex is a “caring, very bright, responsible young man, very talented and very gifted.”

She said he represents hope and inspiration.

“I think a lot of people can make the choice to be amazing,” Suzanne said. “They can make the choice not to give up. I think it’s awesome. He has made the choice: ‘I’m not going to quit. I’m not going to let it beat me. I’m going to choose to survive.’ ”

Lewis, his case manager, said his potential is unlimited. “We are very proud of him,” she said. “He has done very well in his placement. They are very happy to have him.”

Alex wants to major in political science or economics with an emphasis on environmental policy. Then again, he might work in foster care.

“I want to do something meaningful,” Alex said. “I want to improve quality of life for people, and I want to do it on a large scale.”

He said he has been accepted into the Honors Program at the University of Michigan, but he’s still waiting to hear from Columbia and Harvard.

On a visit to Harvard, he spent a night in the dorms.

“I felt like I belonged,” he said, “like this is where I want to end up.”

In the letters that he sent to prospective foster care families, Alex closed by writing this:

“While my experience as a foster youth has had a major impact on me, it is by no means my defining attribute. I instead treasure my ability to weather the instability — be it from my mother, foster homes, or youth residential facilities — and focus on what is truly important in life; fulfilling work, an education, and bettering the lives of those around you. A person’s real impact on this world is not measured by gross income or collegiate degrees. It is instead revealed by the courage of their moral conviction and human lives they touch. I choose to be the latter.”

2008 A Bad Year for Foster Care…Prospects for 2009!!

 

 A few hours ago we turned the final page, read the last paragraphs and finally closed the book called 2008.

 

We know how dreadful a year it was in regards to our economy, many losing their jobs and homes, more people without health care, falling apart infrastructure and the list goes on and on. We know of all this because the news media hammered it home day after day in their news coverage and headlines of the day.

 

Unfortunately one area of disaster is not well known amongst the public as the media did not consider it worthy of the attention. Yes, we saw the random headlines and occasionally it received coverage on the news; though most of the time it was limited to local coverage.

 

I am speaking of the continued plight of youth in our nation’s foster care system. We as a nation were in 2008 continuing to lose yet another generation of youth who face the tribulations of foster care. These youth continue to be voiceless, unseen and forgotten by most.

 

In 2008:

 

We saw an increase of over 6,000 youth whose parents had their rights terminated continue to languish in foster care as legal orphans: from 123,000 youth in 2007 to 129,000 youth in 2008. This count does not include youth 16-18 years of age who choose not to be adopted.

 

We saw the continuing trend of more youth aging out of the system; in many cases unprepared for the world that awaits them. Just a few years ago the number was holding steady at 20,000 youth a year aging out but the numbers have been increasing; 2007-24,000 youth and 2008-26,000 youth. I have reported in other blog entries the high failure rate of youth aging out of the system.

 

We saw judges continue to ignore ASFA1997 and allowing youth to linger in the system well past the 15-22 month rule. We saw them give the biological parents chance after chance to work their case plans while the youth were held in limbo in regards to permanency.

 

We saw foster parents after foster parents being denied the ability to adopt youth in their care while the youth languishes in the system supposedly temporary becomes a permanent pawn of the system until they age out.

 

We continued to see youth experience move after move of one foster home to another though it has been well documented that with each move a youth will suffer damage.

 

I could go on and on about the failure of our foster care system in 2008 but hopefully this gives you a picture. The unfortunate thing is 2008 is not a new failure. The failures of today are in many cases the same failures I faced while in the system 50 years ago.

 

Prospects for 2009:

 

You would think with so many years of failures being the history of our foster care system that I would think 2009 would be just another year of such failure.

 

However I am optimistic about 2009.  What gives me reason for this optimism?

 

In the spring of 2007 I wrote a letter to each of the candidates for President of the United States whether they be Democrat or Republican. Though I have never been a one issue voter the plight of youth in foster care is a vital one to me. I wanted to know where each candidate stood on the issue and what they would do if nominated by their respective party and ultimately elected.

 

Sixteen letters were written. Here is the text of that letter:

 Dear _______________:

 

There are thousands of American children who are in desperate need for our leaders to “defend their lives”. Over 500,000 currently reside in our nation’s foster care system…123,000 languish in the system while currently eligible for adoption.

 

There is also an alumnus from the foster care system of over 12 million men/women today.

 

American children are being abused and neglected in record numbers. It is outrageously despicable that in a great country such as ours these innocent lives are not being protected. There are American children who are suffering abuse repeatedly. It appears that “parental rights” gives someone the right to abuse, neglect, and molest our littlest victims.

Many of these children are placed in foster homes to have their broken bodies, minds and hearts mended by loving foster parents, only to be returned over and over again to their abusers. Some are eventually murdered.

 

It is time a fierce stand is taken to protect these innocent lives. Current laws are not effective in preventing violence against children. Current laws do not give children in foster care the stability and permanency they so deserve. Current laws do not do what our children need them to do, protect them and consider their best interest. There is a need for laws and regulations to provide safe, loving, nurturing environments for our children to live and thrive in.

 

Many, many foster care children are never adopted, many of them age out of the system. They age out of the foster care system into our prison systems, homeless etc. This is because after being repeatedly abused, neglected, and reunited with their perpetrators they are so severely traumatized that they become mentally ill.

 

The federal government has in the past used incentives such as bonuses to the states for the adoption of foster children over the age of nine. These children need adopted in their early years. They are hardened by the very system set-up to protect them. By the time these children are nine years old it is hard to find families willing to adopt a child who has numerous behaviors issues. Issues that they developed by the trauma they suffered while in the “system”.

 

Over the years there have been token changes to the laws, regulations, and other governmental acts that were suppose to protect abused and neglected children. None of these have made a meaningful or useful change for the children. Children are still languishing in foster care. Children are still being reunited with their abusers only to be returned to the broken foster care system, time and time again. When are we going to “defend their lives”?

 

I the undersigned had my life touched forever by the foster care system. I was thrust into on the day of my birth and remained until I aged out. I went through sixteen moves, sexual abuse and other humiliations during those years. The last move was being thrust onto the streets to fend for myself when I reached eighteen.

 

I am one of the lucky ones who survived the system and have made something of my life.

 

I am not a one issue voter. However, this is one of the main issues I am concerned about. I don’t want the usual political spinning, more studies or commissions. I want proposals with action to correct what I consider to be a national crisis.

 

I urge you to consider legislation, if nominated or elected, to our Representatives and our Senators to make unprecedented changes that are “in the child’s best interest”. The current system of “state run systems” has failed these youth. I believe that if the foster care system was a federally ran system there would be more consistency and uniformity in the protection of the United States foster children. We need action now, before more innocent lives are lost.

 

I have contact with several thousand former foster youth as well as foster/adoptive parents I wish to possibly garner their support for you from. There first question is “What does he/she plan on doing about the foster care system problem?” I want to be able to answer that question but I do not have an answer to date.

 

Will you please “stand on OUR side” as I and others “defend” these little lives we so desperately want to protect and stand by “your” side?

 

Sincerely,

 

 

I received only one response. It was not your typical form letter reply thanking me for writing about an issue. It was obvious a letter than had been very carefully considered as it addressed not only the issue but responded to the things I had experienced as a youth in foster care. One could tell this candidate had read my letter personally and responded to it in the same manner.

 

This candidate was Senator Barack Obama. He showed he cared about me as an individual, as an American as well as the issue. He was not the typical politician just looking for votes.

 

I became an immediate supporter of Senator Barack Obama for President.

 

 

He made two promises in his letter to me:

 

  1. He would clearly state on his web site his position for child advocacy
  2. He would establish a specific office in the White House if elected for children & youth issues

 

He followed through with this statement of advocacy on his web site:

 

Child Advocacy:

 

Barack Obama is a committed advocate for children. He will make sure that every child has health insurance, expand educational opportunities for low-income children, extend resources for low-income families, support and supplement our struggling foster care system, and protect children from violence and neglect.

 

On December 9, 2008, just a month after his election as President he carried through with his second promise.

 

President elect Obama and his transition team are requesting feedback from the general public on the issue and what we would like to see be done.

 

Never before in my memory has a President asked we the public to be part of establishing policy.

 

Whether you voted for President elect Obama or not it is time for each of us to not only complain about problems but to offer potential solutions to a person who has promised to listen to us.

 

It is time for each of us to let our voices be heard on the issue of our broken foster care system and the damage it causes.

 

Below is the link where you are able to do so. You will be required to sign up but then you can speak to this issue or other issues that may be of interest to you.

 

http://change.gov/open_government/entry/establishing_the_white_house_office_on_children_and_youth/

 

This is not the end but only the beginning. We must hold President Obama’s feet to the fire. We must let him know when we agree with him on this issue and when we disagree. We must let him know we will not continue to allow our current system of foster care to destroy another generation of youth.

 

He has kept his first two promises to me and now I want to see change!

 

Knowing what the President will have on his plate day one of his presidency I do not expect immediate solutions to the problem but I do expect the beginning of the process within 2009.

 

To those reading this please do your part’ go to the link above and be heard!

 

Reform needs to begin and it needs to begin NOW!!