By A. Hosack, P. Berman, & K. Hecht
Ms. Alexandra is coming because I will be 18 soon. We could be homeless! I hated living with my parents. I can’t go back there they are bad for Davy and me. I like living with the Carsons. I don’t want to leave. Will they let me stay?
The doorbell rings; it must be Ms. Alexandra. Davy is sleeping so Claire comes down and opens the door. She smiles wanly at Ms. Alexandra. The Carsons come to the door and suggest everyone come into the living room. They hand out coffee, they put a plate of cookies on the table.
Does this mean they are happy I am about to leave? They can’t wait for me to leave!
Claire will be 18-years-old in two months. The Carsons have been exhausted a lot since Claire and Davy moved in. They have gone without a lot of medicine, since they moved in. It is possible that are looking forward to her leaving. Ms. Alexandra doesn’t know. She does worry a lot about Claire and Davy being on their own. Claire will have her high school degree so she could get a job, but if she had to pay for child care, it would never be enough to live in a decent apartment.
Claire had worked herself up so much with scary thoughts that she felt like she was going to pass out. Mrs. Carson noticed she had gone white and got her a glass of water. When Claire felt less dizzy, she broke out in tears, got on her knees and begged the Carsons to let her stay. They looked helplessly at Ms. Alexandra; they cared deeply for Claire and Davy, they wanted to help, but without the foster care money coming in, they could never afford to keep the two of them.
Mr. Carson felt humiliated but his worry about Claire and Davy made him speak up. He told Ms. Alexandra that they wanted to keep this new family together, but they could only keep up with the bills if they got help. Ms. Alexandra broke out into her big smile; she was so relieved, the Carsons wanted to keep Claire.
Claire put her head down in Mrs. Carson’s lap and muttered into it, “I’ll get a job, you can have all the money, just let me stay.” Mrs. Carson smiled and stroked Claire’s hair. Ms. Alexandra pulled out some papers and said that some new state rules allowed the fostering process to continue if Claire met some specific criteria. Claire would need to apply for a higher degree, or she could meet some employment criteria.
Claire looked up at the Carsons and said she would do anything they told her to do. They smiled back.
Do you think most 18-year-olds are ready to be completely on their own?
Did you or someone you know, get some more help from family after they graduated high school?
Ms. Alexandra had seen a lot of foster kids doing well in foster care until they had to move out and make all their decisions on their own. It was hard to balance the financial and parenting responsibilities. Some teen mothers ended up pregnant again, as they got married and then divorced within a few years. The age 18 is really an arbitrary number for declaring someone an adult. While Claire can vote and do other adult-like things, research shows her brain may not function at an adult level until she is around 25. It is common that young adults get help from their parents into their twenties and sometimes longer. Ms. Alexandra has seen a lot of foster kids doing well until they had to make all their decisions on their own. Ms. Alexandra would do everything she could to help the Carsons keep Claire and Davy with them.
This is a critical time in Claire’s life. She could continue to learn from the Carsons and others, develop a good job record and be able to truly support herself and Davy in a few years. Or, she could end up like many kids who “timed-out” of foster care at 18. It is very hard to balance financial, employment, and parenting responsibilities. Claire might have trouble controlling her anger or frustration at work and end up being fired from one job after another. She might be so lonely, living alone with Davy that she agreed to sex with the first man who showed an interest in her. Then, she might become pregnant again by another man who didn’t want to commit to her or being a father.
Whether Claire stays with them or not, the Carsons had been thinking about what Claire might do after graduation from high school in a few months. Claire’s grades had stayed stable and high ever since she moved in. They knew she would be willing to go to a vocational program for more training. But, would going for a job right away be better because it wouldn’t cost money?
What could help Claire and the Carsons most right now? Do you think Claire should have to make a choice right now, or just focus on learning more about being a good parent from the Carsons?
Mrs. Carson often let other people tell her what to do. She had heard plenty of opinions from her adult children and her friends about Claire and Davy. They were all united in saying, “you have done enough,” “it’s not your responsibility to do more.” Mrs. Carson felt deep in her heart that Claire and Davy should stay with them. It would take the pressure off her back if people stopped telling her she was being foolish to think she had any responsibility for how Claire and Davy turned out.
Mrs. Carson had read a lot of opinions about everything, in the editorial section of the local newspaper. She decided to write her own letter. She wanted people in her community to realize, they were often helping their own adult kids so why should foster kids get less help when they needed more? She was going to recommend readers go to the website below and learn the rules of their state. She then wanted them to take a stand for helping foster children getting really prepared for independence, so that they had a decent chance at a better life than they had been born into. Maybe her letter could even inspire more people to become foster parents; Mrs. Carson was learning how to be an advocate for her beliefs by telling others about foster care needs.
Is it worth taxpayer money to pay for foster children like Claire and Davy to get more help?
Check out this resource to see the laws about extended foster care (beyond age 18) in your state: http://www.ncsl.org/research/human-services/extending-foster-care-to-18.aspx