President Issues Proclamation for Nat’l Foster Care Month

Presidential Proclamation-National Foster Care Month
A PROCLAMATION

Nearly a half-million children and youth are in foster care in America, all entering the system through no fault of their own. During National Foster Care Month, we recognize the promise of children and youth in foster care, as well as former foster youth. We also celebrate the professionals and foster parents who demonstrate the depth and kindness of the human heart.

Children and youth in foster care deserve the happiness and joy every child should experience through family life and a safe, loving home. Families provide children with unconditional love, stability, trust, and the support to grow into healthy, productive adults. Unfortunately, too many foster youth reach the age at which they must leave foster care and enter adulthood without the support of a permanent family.

Much work remains to reach the goal of permanence for every child, and my Administration has supported States that increased the number of children adopted out of foster care, providing over $35 million in 2009 through the Adoption Incentives program. We are also committed to meeting the developmental, educational, and health-related needs of children and youth in foster care. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provided a significant increase in funding for the Title IV-E adoption and foster care assistance program. States can use these funds to ensure those placed in foster care will enter a safe and stable environment.

In addition, we are implementing the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act. This law promotes permanency and improved outcomes for foster youth through support for kinship care and adoption, support for older youth, direct access to Federal resources for Indian tribes, coordinated health benefits, improved educational stability and opportunities, and adoption incentives and assistance. Former foster youth will also benefit from the Affordable Care Act, which, beginning in 2014, will ensure Medicaid coverage for them in every State.

This month, caring foster parents and professionals across our Nation will celebrate the triumphs of children and youth in foster care as they work to remove barriers to reaching a permanent family. Federal, State, and local government agencies, communities, and individuals all have a role to play as well. Together, we can ensure that young people in foster care have the opportunities and encouragement they need to realize their full potential.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim May 2010 as National Foster Care Month. I call upon all Americans to observe this month with appropriate programs and activities to honor and support young people in foster care, and to recognize the committed adults who work on their behalf each day.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twenty-eighth day of April, in the year of our Lord two thousand ten, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-fourth.

BARACK OBAMA

From Dark Childhood to Foster Care to Fulbright Scholor!

This is a great story:

By Jennifer Brooks • THE TENNESSEAN • April 24, 2010

It would be easy to take one look at Kaitlen Howell’s past and write off her future.
 
Born into a violently abusive home, she was pulled out of school in first grade and never sent back. She spent her teen years bouncing through a series of foster homes and homeless shelters. Damaged goods, some called her.

Howell, Tennessee’s newest Fulbright scholar, graduates from Middle Tennessee State University next week with a double major in biology and German, a nearly flawless GPA, and enough academic trophies and awards to splinter a shelf.

She’ll spend the summer studying for the medical school entrance exams at her parents’ home in Murfreesboro — the parents who stepped forward to adopt her when she was 17 years old. She’ll spend her scholarship year in Germany, studying with a neurologist whose research could save thousands from a deadly type of stroke. She’ll spend the rest of her life trying to make the world a better place than the one she was born into.

“It doesn’t matter where you come from. That’s not who you are. Yeah, people took a whole lot from me. But I’m the happiest person I know,” she said, flashing an even wider version of her usual ear-to-ear grin. “Man, I’m alive! I’m 22! How great is that? I never thought I’d live to see 22. I was happy just being alive.”

‘I had a choice’

The Kaitlen Howell who is graduating from MTSU in May is very different from the one who started there 4½ years ago. She walked into her first college classes with a graduate equivalency degree and no idea just how wide the gap was between her and the rest of her classmates.

On the first day of her first general science class, the professor kept waving to the big chart on the wall. The one with all the tiny boxes and letters. The periodic table of elements. She’d never heard of it.

“I didn’t know what an atom was. I wrote it in my notes, A-D-A-M. I had no idea,” she said.

It would have been enough to make almost anyone throw up her hands in despair, walk away, quit. But Howell had survived far worse things than tough homework assignments, and she did what she had always done. She put her head down, gutted her way through and not only survived, but thrived.

“You can always find an excuse,” she said. “For the longest time, I didn’t have a life, I didn’t have a source of hope. But I had a choice. You can choose to get your GED. You can choose to get out of bed today. If you don’t kill yourself today, that’s a choice.”

She had to teach herself how to study. She took 24 credit hours of remedial classes just to get on a par with the rest of the incoming freshmen. She racked up A after A in class after class. In her entire college career, Kaitlen has earned only one B — when she passed her first chemistry class.

She’s the student who asks the good questions in class, listens carefully to the answers and then absolutely ruins the grading curve.

“She loves the learning, and she’s willing to work hard,” said biology professor Gore Ervin, who remembers her performance in one of his embryology classes, where she was not only the top student in the class, but a full letter grade ahead of anyone else. “She clearly has great innate ability. … I’d put her in the top five of all the students I’ve ever taught.”

On top of the staggering 23-hour course load she carried in her final semester as an undergraduate, Howell volunteers her time to anyone who needs it. She tutors, and she works with AIDS patients, with teens in foster care preparing to start college, with victims of domestic violence.

‘I had to start fighting’

Howell spent a lonely, dangerous childhood reading her way through every book she could find. She read To Kill a Mockingbird in first grade. She read The Lord of the Rings. She read the Hardy Boys. She dreamed of turning 18 and earning her freedom. As things turned out, she didn’t have that much time.

“There came a point where my life was literally in danger. I realized that I was going to die if I stayed there,” she said. “I realized I had to start fighting if I wanted to live.”

She was 15 years old when she escaped the abuse and neglect of that home, into the foster-care system and the winding route that would eventually cross her path with Allen and Melanie Howell of Murfreesboro.

It was 2005 when a friend at church first introduced Kaitlen to the Howells, a 40ish professional couple with no children of their own.

Countless older teens age out of the foster-care system without ever finding a family.

Kaitlen’s wait had ended.

“I don’t remember ever having a big discussion about it. As soon as we met her, we knew,” said Melanie Howell, an interior decorator who stepped up to become a first-time mother to a 17-year-old girl. The Lord, she said, had spoken with her about caring for the widows and orphans, and one day, there she was — “like the stork had delivered us a 17-year-old.” For Kaitlen, the experience of joining a real family was almost as disorienting as the leap from first grade to the college chemistry lab.

“The family thing was hard for me. I didn’t know how long it was going to last,” Kaitlen said. Over the years, a few of her many foster families had talked about adopting her, but nothing ever came of it, and each disappointment made an already untrusting young girl even more wary. “It hardened my heart. I just thought people make promises and don’t keep them.”

It took years for her to believe the Howells weren’t going to change their minds about her. It was last year, in fact, that she really started to believe it.

Now, while her friends are rushing to find off-campus housing, eager to live on their own, Kaitlen still lives happily with her parents. She’d never stayed anywhere longer than two years at a time, and when she passed that mark with the Howells, she said, she celebrated.

‘I picked who I am’

There’s plenty of reason to celebrate these days. The Fulbright has produced more Nobel Prize winners than any other academic honor, and hers will pay her way to Germany, to the West Saxon University of Zwickau, in fall 2011. There she will be part of the research team looking into a possible link between a small congenital defect that affects a quarter of the population — a tiny hole between the atria of the heart that fails to close in the womb, as it should — and an increased risk of stroke.
She wants to help people, so she’s planning to earn an M.D. She wants to help a lot of people, so she figures she’ll pursue a dual Ph.D. at the same time and become a medical researcher.

A physician can help only the people she can reach with her hands, she figures. A researcher can find a treatment or cure that could save millions of lives at once.

But of all the things she’s proud of in her new life — and she’s been averaging three academic awards ceremonies a week for the past few weeks — she’s most proud of this: her name. She took the Howell name and she gave herself a new first name to go with it. Kaitlen Howell is who she has made herself to be.

“Here’s my life theory. Everything has good and bad. You walk through life and there’s evil and there’s dark, but you can choose to walk through life in the bright times, through the colors,” she said. “I decided I was going to pick what I would let affect me.

“I like who I am. I picked who I am. I picked the whole rainbow.”

Federal class action suit filed against Clark County (Las Vegas) child welfare system

By Steve Kanigher Wednesday, April 14, 2010 | 12:03 p.m.

A federal class action lawsuit filed Tuesday night in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas accuses state and Clark County officials of overseeing a child welfare system that violates state and federal law.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of 13 children by the National Center for Youth Law in Oakland, Calif., named as defendants Nevada Department of Health and Human Services Director Michael Willden, Nevada Division of Child and Family Services Administrator Diane Comeaux, Clark County Manager Virginia Valentine and Clark County Department of Family Services Director Tom Morton.

Those officials are accused of showing “deliberate indifference to the health and safety of the children [they are] obligated to protect.” In addition to seeking unspecified damages for the child plaintiffs, the lawsuit demands system improvements for several classes of children in foster care.

Clark County spokesman Erik Pappa said today: “We’re not commenting because we haven’t had a chance to review it.”

Department of Health and Human Services spokesman Ben Kieckhefer likewise said: “We haven’t been served yet and we can’t comment until we’ve had a chance to review it with our attorneys.”

The lawsuit alleges countless instances of blatant disregard of federal and state law, substandard judgment, neglect and active indifference on the part of child welfare officials and caseworkers. Those individuals were accused of perpetuating abuse by routinely denying foster children stability, health care, and, in many cases, even the most minimal level of safety. In fact, many children are taken from their homes only to be subjected to further abuse, including physical, sexual, or psychological abuse, while in the county’s custody, the lawsuit says.

In one cited example, defendants allegedly placed an infant and her older brother in a foster home where the baby was locked in a closet, and her brother was beaten when he tried to help her. Another plaintiff, now 17, has been in foster care for 15 years and has been shuttled through 40 placements.

The youth law center stated that since 2003, more than 10 studies and reports have documented the defendants’ failure to protect the health, safety and well being of child abuse victims and children in foster care.

Other law firms representing the plaintiffs include Morrison & Foerster LLP, an international, 1,000-lawyer firm with offices in 16 cities, including San Francisco, and Wolfenzon Schulman & Ryan, with offices in Las Vegas, Reno and San Diego.

The youth law center previously sued to reform the child welfare system in Nevada on behalf of different plaintiffs and a different class. The last suit, filed in 2006, was dismissed last year after the federal court declined to certify the class, and all the plaintiffs had either aged out of the system or been adopted.

The center is renewing its efforts for current and future foster care children who it says will continue to suffer until state and county child welfare officials make changes to ensure the safety and well-being of children in their custody.

“Our hope is that going forward, the county and state will commit its time and resources to addressing the needs of children in its care,” says youth law center attorney Bryn Martyna.

The law center said that many of the problems cited in its initial lawsuit persist or have worsened. A 2009 review of Nevada’s child welfare system by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found the state did not meet federal standards for child safety, staff and caregiver training, and children’s physical and mental health, among others.

Among the allegations in the lawsuit:

• Many caseworkers lack even the most rudimentary training, have no supervision, and carry exceedingly high caseloads, resulting in serious injury to children.

• Children are routinely denied mental health, medical, early intervention and special education services.

• Children as young as 7 are prescribed powerful psychotropic drugs, sometimes in combination, without adequate monitoring. Most of the drugs are not approved for use in children. One child named in the suit was twice hospitalized in the ICU for near organ failure due to an overdose of such drugs.

• Caseworkers regularly fail to visit children in their placements.

• Supervisors and caseworkers often “turn a deaf ear” to reports of abuse and neglect in foster care, allowing children to endure further abuse.

• Children sent to out-of-state placements are essentially written off by defendants, who fail to evaluate or monitor such placements, allowing children to suffer further abuse and neglect.

The lawsuit is also demanding that the state and county agencies develop case plans that contain the information foster parents need to properly care for the children in their care, provide representatives for children in court as required under both Nevada and federal law, and provide early intervention services for foster children.

“If defendants’ unconstitutional and unlawful actions and omissions are not halted, many more children will be harmed,” said youth law center attorney Bill Grimm, lead counsel on the case. “And another generation of children will suffer untold misery in the form of abuse, instability and absence of a loving family. Some will suffer irreparable injury or even death, and others will leave the foster care system ill-prepared to live healthy, independent, and productive lives.”

American Woman SENDS BACK Adopted Russian Son Artem ALONE!

This story makes me sick…another child lost due to someone not doing their job before allowing this woman to adopt him. Less than 8 months after adoption he is sent back to Russia ALONE on a plane! Now many other Russian children needing permanent homes will also suffer.

Associated Press 4/9/2010

MOSCOW — Russia threatened to suspend all child adoptions by U.S. families Friday after a 7-year-old boy adopted by a woman from Tennessee was sent alone on a one-way flight back to Moscow with a note saying he was violent and had severe psychological problems.

The boy, Artyom Savelyev, was put on a plane by his adopted grandmother, Nancy Hansen of Shelbyville.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called the actions by the grandmother “the last straw” in a string of U.S. adoptions gone wrong, including three in which Russian children had died in the U.S.

The cases have prompted outrage in Russia, where foreign adoption failures are reported prominently. Russian main TV networks ran extensive reports on the latest incident in their main evening news shows.

The Russian education ministry immediately suspended the license of the group involved in the adoption – the World Association for Children and Parents, a Renton, Washington-based agency – for the duration of an investigation. In Tennessee, authorities were investigating the adoptive mother, Torry Hansen, 33.

Any possible freeze could affect hundreds of American families. Last year, nearly 1,600 Russian children were adopted in the United States.

“We’re obviously very troubled by it,” U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said in Washington when asked about the boy’s case. He told reporters the U.S. and Russia share a responsibility for the child’s safety and Washington will work closely with Moscow to make sure adoptions are legal and appropriately monitored.

Asked if he thought a suspension by Russia was warranted, Crowley said, “If Russia does suspend cooperation on the adoption, that is its right. These are Russian citizens.”

The boy arrived unaccompanied in Moscow on a United Airlines flight on Thursday from Washington. Social workers sent him to a Moscow hospital for a health checkup and criticized his adoptive mother for abandoning him.

The Kremlin children’s rights office said the boy was carrying a letter from his adoptive mother saying she was returning him due to severe psychological problems.

“This child is mentally unstable. He is violent and has severe psychopathic issues,” the letter said. “I was lied to and misled by the Russian Orphanage workers and director regarding his mental stability and other issues. …

“After giving my best to this child, I am sorry to say that for the safety of my family, friends, and myself, I no longer wish to parent this child.”

The boy was adopted in September from the town of Partizansk in Russia’s Far East.

Nancy Hansen, the grandmother, told The Associated Press that she and the boy flew to Washington and she put the child on the plane with the note from her daughter. She vehemently rejected assertions of child abandonment by Russian authorities, saying he was watched over by a United Airlines stewardess and the family paid a man $200 to pick the boy up at the Moscow airport and take him to the Russian Education and Science Ministry.

Nancy Hansen said a social worker checked on the boy in January and reported to Russian authorities that there were no problems. But after that, the grandmother said incidents of hitting, kicking, spitting began to escalate, along with threats.

“He drew a picture of our house burning down and he’ll tell anybody that he’s going to burn our house down with us in it,” she told The Associated Press in a phone interview. “It got to be where you feared for your safety. It was terrible.”

Nancy Hansen said she and her daughter went to Russia together to adopt the boy, and she believes information about his behavioral problems was withheld from her daughter.

“The Russian orphanage officials completed lied to her because they wanted to get rid of him,” Nancy Hansen said.

She said the boy was very skinny when they picked him up, and he told them he had been beaten with a broom handle at the orphanage.

Joseph LaBarbera, a clinical psychologist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, said adoptive parents are many times not aware of the psychological state of children put up for adoption.

“Parents enter into it (foreign adoption) with positive motivations but, in a sense, they are a little bit blindsided by their desire to adopt,” said LaBarbera, who specializes in the psychological evaluation of children and has worked with a number of children adopted from Russia and other foreign countries. “They’re not prepared to appreciate, psychologically, the kinds of conditions these kids have been exposed to and the effect it has had on them.”

Russian state television showed the child in a yellow jacket holding the hands of two chaperones as he left a police precinct and entered a van bound for a Moscow medical clinic.

The U.S. ambassador to Russia, John Beyrle, said he was “deeply shocked by the news” and “very angry that any family would act so callously toward a child that they had legally adopted.”

Anna Orlova, a spokeswoman for Kremlin’s Children Rights Commissioner, told The Associated Press that she visited the boy and he told her that his mother was “bad,” “did not love him,” and used to pull his hair.

Russian officials said he turned up at the door of the Russian Education and Science Ministry on Thursday afternoon accompanied by a Russian man who handed over the boy and his documents, then left, officials said. The child holds a Russian passport.

Rob Johnson, a spokesman for the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, said the agency is looking into Friday’s allegations, although it does not handle international adoptions.

Bedford County Sheriff Randall Boyce also said Torry Hansen was under investigation and expected to interview her Friday afternoon.

Lavrov said his ministry would recommend that the U.S. and Russia hammer out an agreement before any new adoptions are allowed.

“We have taken the decision … to suggest a freeze on any adoptions to American families until Russia and the USA sign an international agreement” on the conditions for adoptions, Lavrov said.

He said the U.S. had refused to negotiate such an accord in the past but “the recent event was the last straw.”

Pavel Astakhov, the children rights commissioner, said in a televised interview that a treaty is vital to protect Russian citizens in other countries.

“How can we prosecute a person who abused the rights of a Russian child abroad? If there was an adoption treaty in place, we would have legal means to protect Russian children abroad,” he said.

Julie Snyder, spokeswoman for World Association for Children and Parents in Renton, Washington, said the organization is limited to what it can say because of confidentiality restrictions. She said the group is working with authorities in the U.S. and Russia.

“It’s as shocking to us as to anybody else to hear about it,” she said.

Despite the uproar over adoptions, placing children inside Russia remains difficult. There are more than 740,000 children without parental custody in Russia, according to UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund.

United Airlines disavowed any responsibility and said it requires a parent or guardian dropping off a child for a flight to show an ID and to list who is picking the child up at the destination.

United spokeswoman Robin Urbanski said all unaccompanied minors on the flight that arrived Thursday in Moscow were picked up by the person listed on the form.

Previous adoption failures have increased Russian officials’ wariness of adoptions to the U.S.

In 2006, Peggy Sue Hilt of Manassas, Virginia, was sentenced to 25 years in prison after being convicted of fatally beating a 2-year-old girl adopted from Siberia months earlier.

In 2008, Kimberly Emelyantsev of Tooele, Utah, was sentenced to 15 years after pleading guilty to killing a Russian infant in her care.

And in March of this year, prosecutors in Pennsylvania met with a Russian diplomats to discuss how to handle the case of a couple accused of killing their 7-year-old adopted Russian son at their home near the town of Dillsburg.

Tough Road for Youth Aging out of Foster Care

From National Public Radio on April 7, 2010:

NPR.ORG April 7, 2010

It’s hard turning 18 — moving out, finding a job, going to college. But many foster children have to do it by themselves, without the lifeline to parents and home that helps many teens ease into independence.

A major report out Wednesday says that many former foster kids have a tough time out on their own. When they age out of the system, they’re more likely than their peers to end up in jail, homeless or pregnant. They’re also less likely to have a job or go to college.

Life can be a struggle for these young people, even with help from the government and nonprofit agencies.

An Abrupt Cutoff

Josh Mendoza, a shy young man from Tampa, Fla., with soulful eyes and a hint of dark hair along his upper lip. He lived in 14 different group homes after he was removed from his mother’s care more than two years ago because she used drugs.

But now he’s just turned 18, and like 30,000 other foster teens this year, he’s suddenly out on his own.

“This is my apartment,” Mendoza says as he opens the door to a ground floor unit at an apartment complex in Tampa. The living room is empty except for a navy blue futon and a small TV. The white walls are bare. He has only been here for two weeks. There’s food in the cupboard, but not a lot: some spaghetti, Cream of Wheat and cereal.

Living on your own is a little weird, says Mendoza. It’s kind of lonely and a challenge, he says. His only cooking experience in foster care was heating soup in the microwave. He looks at a frying pan on top of his new stove. The bottom is covered with congealed fat.

“Yesterday, I was trying to cook, but I don’t think it turned out too good,” Mendoza says. “With the burgers, it kind of got burnt.”

But unlike many foster care teens, Mendoza has been getting some help.

Nick Reschke is Mendoza’s transition specialist, a kind of big brother/parent provided to foster youth in the Tampa area. He helped Mendoza find his apartment, sign the lease and move in.

“The day he turned 18, we went to pick up his check, went grocery shopping, went over a list of what he needs, what his budgets are,” says Reschke, who also helped Mendoza pick up some donated furniture and supplies. “And then after that, Josh and I, we pretty much just cleaned the apartment up, wiped down the counters, wiped down the cabinets and set up his house. And that was his first night.”
It was also Mendoza’s 18th birthday.

“We have an abrupt cutoff, like most states,” says Diane Zambito, who runs Connected by 25, a Tampa nonprofit that is trying to smooth the transition for former foster care youth. “We go from ‘you’re in foster care, where you may handle $10 a month’ to ‘you’re responsible for everything.’ ”

Zambito says things have come a long way since 10 years ago, when some foster kids here turned 18, put their belongings in a plastic bag and were taken to the nearest homeless shelter because they had nowhere else to go. But she says it’s still not enough.

“We need to offer something for these young people other than, ‘Here’s Option A: Fall off the cliff,’ ” she says.

Clinging To The Edge

The new study — from Chapin Hall, a policy research center at the University of Chicago — finds that those who age out of foster care are not exactly falling off a cliff, but they are desperately clinging to the edge.

Mark Courtney is with Partners for Our Children, a policy center at the University of Washington. Over the past eight years, Courtney and colleagues from Chapin Hall have been following the progress of more than 600 former foster kids.

“Many of them are faring poorly,” says Courtney. “Less than half were employed at 23, 24. They’re much less likely to have finished high school, less likely to be enrolled in college or have a college degree.”

In fact, by age 24, only 6 percent have two- or four-year degrees. More than two-thirds of the young women have children. Nearly 60 percent of the males have been convicted of a crime. Almost a quarter were homeless at some point after leaving foster care.

“Those children are our children, the children of society, of the state,” says Courtney. “I would argue that we have no business taking them into care and then keeping them until they’re in the transition to adulthood, unless we’re going to try to do a good job of that.”

They’re trying in Tampa.

Raising An Adult

Two weeks after his 18th birthday, Josh Mendoza meets his advisers at a GED program for those aging out of care.

“All right, so Josh, you know we do this once a month,” says Sarah Hart, the program coordinator. “You’ve been in the hot seat before, so let’s start by getting an update on your progress.”

Hart is concerned because the first day Mendoza was on his own, in his new apartment, he didn’t come to school.

“Why is that, Josh?” she asks.

Mendoza sheepishly explains that his alarm clock didn’t go off and he missed his bus. He says he had no other way to get there. Hart responds as a parent might.

“My question is, did you call Mr. Mark or Miss Colette to let them know you weren’t going to be here that day?” she asks.

“No,” says Josh.

“OK. You know, those things are going to happen,” Hart responds. “You’ve just turned 18, and you’re getting adjusted to coming from a new place. I mean, I get all that. If that happens again, though, you have to call your teachers and let them know. That’s part of being responsible.”

Mendoza knows he can’t afford to screw up. His $1,256 monthly stipend from the state is contingent on him staying in school.

“If I lose my check, I’m going to the street,” he says. “And then I wouldn’t know what to do, or who to ask, or who to turn to.”

A Resilient Group

Researchers say former foster kids who have someone to rely on do better than those who don’t. But right now, only a handful of states provide foster care beyond 18. While several other states are planning to do so in response to a new federal law, state budget problems could put a crimp in those plans. In Florida, there’s even talk about cutting the stipend for former foster kids in half.

But Courtney says this is also a resilient group. By age 24, about half of those surveyed in his new study appear to be doing OK. Their lives have begun to stabilize.

Katrena Wingo of Tampa considers herself one of those people. At 24, she has a job and a place for her and her 3-year-old son, Ajai, to live. It’s a tiny duplex, but with a yard big enough for her to play with him when she comes home from work.

But it’s been a long haul getting here. Wingo entered foster care as an infant and stayed until her 18th birthday. After she aged out, she was OK for a while, but then she got pregnant. She stopped working and spent months moving from one friend’s sofa to another.

“And at the time I wasn’t going to school,” she says. “So it was hard.”

Eventually, with the help of friends, some family members and the nonprofit Connected by 25, she began to turn her life around. Wingo says perhaps the biggest eye opener was having a child of her own.

“It’s just like, OK, you have another life in here that you brought into this world. And now everything that you do, everything that you own, everything that you spend, is not only yours or for you, it’s for your child now. So he’s your No. 1 priority,” she says.

Wingo still depends on food stamps — and on her landlord to cut her some slack when the rent is due. But she’s back in school trying to earn her degree. She hopes someday to become a counselor for troubled youth.

And Josh Mendoza? He says that if he gets his college degree, his goal is to run group homes.

Aging-Out Stats
For eight years, researchers have followed about 600 young adults who aged out of the child welfare systems in Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois. The report finds that at age 23 and 24, former foster youth are more likely than their peers to be:
Unemployed — Less than half were employed.
Homeless — Almost 25 percent had been homeless since exiting foster care.
Pregnant — More than 75 percent of young women had been pregnant since leaving foster care.
Convicted of a crime — Nearly 60 percent of young men had been convicted of a crime, and more than 80 percent had been arrested.
Uneducated — Only 6 percent had a 2- or 4-year degree.