At Austin Children’s Shelter (ACS), we have long known that aging out of foster care does not always directly correlate to a child’s readiness to lead a healthy, independent, successful life. In an attempt to aid this transition and prepare the children in our care to lead that successful, independent life, we have developed several programs, including Transitional Living Program, Supervised Independent Living, and Teen Parent Program. Recently, it’s been brought to our attention that we may need one more: a foster care alumni program.
The following email was written by a concerned staff member illuminating an issue that concerns our young, former foster care youths. Brandi, we hear you and we agree. Our most vulnerable children need our help. Let’s answer that call. Let’s work together to figure out what a program like this looks like and enact it quickly.
I am emailing to ask for your help. As you know, after youth leave ACS, whether it be to a new placement or their first apartment, alumni seem to find their way back to our front doors. It is actually something that I am quite proud of here at ACS. It is also something that is becoming more and more saddening. In the last 10 days, we have had 13 alumni come through our doors. Some are simply asking for a bus pass or a gift card to HEB for some groceries. Some are homeless and sleeping on the new added bus stop at the end of our driveway and have no way to contact family or CPS. Some are homeless and without food, emaciated and scared.
In the last 10 days, we have had 13 alumni come through our doors.
This is just not acceptable. I know that The SAFE Alliance mission is to lead in ending sexual assault and exploitation, child abuse and domestic violence through prevention, intervention and advocacy for change. I am presenting to you right now as an advocate for help and change for these young people, but with an expansion on the mission statement. The SAFE Alliance is where these sad stories could come to end.
As one of the staff that steps in to help, I feel like I am only putting a small Band-Aid on these situations, and when doing so, not doing what is universally accepted on campus.
As it stands today, if an alumnus comes on campus and is asking for help, there are select few ACS employees that will step in to do the best they can to provide them with anything that will help. Mary* will provide gift cards for food with the approval from Chris* of our Transitional Living Program (TLP), who can occasionally provide a bus pass so the youth can get where they need to go. If they are hungry, we give them snack food items from Ms. Kacey’s* snack drawer, or one of us will make them a plate of hot food from the leftovers in one of the cottage. Some staff will “secretly” wash the youth’s clothing in one of the cottages, while another staff stands outside the locker rooms in Building A to allow them to shower. It is a broken system at best. As one of the staff that steps in to help, I feel like I am only putting a small Band-Aid on these situations, and when doing so, not doing what is universally accepted on campus.
he young man will need to sleep on the streets again today, without food, until a case manager at The Outreach can meet with him tomorrow afternoon.
A 22-year-old alumni came in this morning. He was in tattered and filthy clothes. He was trembling because he was so hungry. This youth suffered from significant psychiatric concerns when he lived at ACS as a TLP resident in 2013. A Building A employee called the Austin Police Department to report he was on campus. He has no money, no insurance coverage, and just wants a roof over his head and food. He was shy and reserved when Artemis* approached him initially. Ms. Kacey reached out to me to see if I could help, all the while APD was here. As I was driving in to work, I called Austin Lakes Hospital and Mobile Crisis Outreach Team (MCOT). The former stated that they couldn’t help because he didn’t have insurance and wasn’t actively suicidal. The latter stated they would come within 8 hours to assess him. Neither of these are solutions. A Lifeworks staff member was onsite today and sought out help through her resources at the Lifeworks Street Outreach. Fortunately, one of the APD officers was willing to drive him there. The Lifeworks Outreach does not have showers available and they provide hot meals only twice per week. The young man will need to sleep on the streets again today, without food, until a case manager at The Outreach can meet with him tomorrow afternoon.
The former stated that they couldn’t help because he didn’t have insurance and wasn’t actively suicidal. The latter stated they would come within 8 hours to assess him. Neither of these are solutions.
I don’t have a solid plan for this, but I do have ideas. It would be ideal if these youths were allowed to shower. It would be nice if we could allot a few hot meals a week in the budget to allow us to feed them the same thing residential youth get, hot and fresh. It would be great if they could utilize the two washers and driers to wash and dry their clothes. I would love it if they could sit on our sofa and watch a movie in a safe environment, talk to a therapist, discuss medical care, or get help getting insurance. I want to help with this, I do not want to push this off onto someone else, but I also know it will take support from everyone.
For now, I am going to continue what I am doing and hope for positive outcomes. Thank you for taking the time to read this and I look forward coming up with a solution.
*Names have been changed to protect identities