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How best to confront the difficult hurdles faced by teenagers who “age out” of the foster care system was the focus of discussion at a one-day conference held at the John F. Kennedy School of Government on January 11.
“Aging Out: The Foster Care Crisis,” co-sponsored by the Kennedy School’s Wiener Center for Social Policy and the Cambridge Family and Children’s Service, attracted more than a-hundred participants from throughout the region.
“We featured a very exciting cross-section of policy makers, service providers and legislators and there was tremendous energy about getting a national perspective on this issue,” said Denise Maguire, Executive Director of the Cambridge Family and Children’s Service.
Sessions focused on a variety of topics, from securing employment and housing for teenagers to the importance of forming strong relationships with adults and other siblings. Several members of the Massachusetts Families for Kids “Speak Out Team” (young people who have recently exited, or are about to exit, from foster care) talked of their experiences of aging out.
“I can really appreciate the strong bonds I have with my family now because I know what it’s like not to have them,” said former foster child James Stevens, who was adopted at age 16. “I wouldn’t be here today without them.”
Stevens’ mother, Kim, Director of Education and Training at
Massachusetts Families for Kids at Children’s Services in Roxbury, also participated in a panel discussion on the importance of developing strong connections with people.
“The scariest thing about teens is the way adults think about them,” she told the audience. “I would challenge people to change the way they think.”
Pat O’Brien, Director of You Gotta Believe, a social services agency based in New York City, stressed the importance of transitional services for teenagers who are about to age out of the system.
“Half of the people who are homeless have come out of foster care,” he said. “These kids need at least one person who will unconditionally commit to them for the rest of their lives.