Oregon’s foster care system, as dysfunctional as it is, provides a vital service for children who cannot live with their birth parents for a variety of reasons.
But even if all the problems with the system were fixed tomorrow, it would still have one unavoidable limitation: foster care ends when a child reaches maturity.
That happens from age 18 to age 24, depending on the youth’s circumstances. In the system it’s known as “aging out.”
For most young people, graduating from high school and moving on to college, vocational training or the military is a normal rite of passage, and their parents have prepared them for the transition by teaching them to drive, helping them learn to handle personal finances and other life skills we all need acquire to function in society. But young people who have spent years in foster care may never have had the opportunity to learn these things the rest of us take for granted.
In a story in today’s Mail Tribune, reporter Vickie Aldous describes the dilemma of aging out and a volunteer program that is working to address it. Launched in January, Mentoring Youth Toward Independence uses volunteers from the Court Appointed Special Advocate program, who advocate for kids and help them through the child welfare and family court systems.
CASAs who sign up to work with teens aging out get special training in the needs of those youths who are facing the challenge of finding work, figuring out how to find and pay for housing, and deciding what their next step will be. Some of these young people don’t know how to make a medical or dental appointment. Some never learned to drive. Others need help to understand credit, or may have poor credit scores because their parents stole their identities to obtain credit fraudulently.
CASA volunteers already perform a tremendous service by going to bat for kids in the foster system, kids who have been abused and neglected. They accompany the child to court, and make sure the system responds to that child’s needs and acts in his or her best interest.
This new program aimed at those exiting the system is just as important, and may be the difference between a young person who succeeds in making the transition to adulthood and one who falls by the wayside because he’s unprepared to meet the challenges.
CASA volunteers deserve the thanks of all of us for the hours they spend doing this work. Learn more at jacksoncountycasa.org, and consider becoming a CASA yourself. Required training sessions start in September.