Christina Meredith Talks Foster Care on The Today Show

Leah Tripp

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Christina Meredith is a woman of many titles: college student, member of the U.S. Army, former Miss California, and most recently, a published author.

For many years, Meredith could also be identified by another title: “ward of the court.”

At age 16, Meredith was removed from the care of her mother and uncle, an environment that included a wide variety of abuse. Meredith was one of ten siblings, and after reporting the long-standing abuse to authorities, she was placed in foster care.

While being removed from her home spared Meredith from the abuse she had been enduring for years, she soon aged out of the foster care system, leaving her homeless and living out of her car. She was 18 years old.

Despite the obstacles life continued to throw her way, Meredith refused to give in. She drove across the country in her car that doubled as her home, and in a stroke of good fortune, was scouted to participate in the Miss California Competition. In 2013, she won the competition.

From that moment, Meredith decided to use her platform and determination to reform issues within the foster care system. And that’s exactly what she’s doing.

On March 5th, Meredith appeared on The Today Show, talking about her upcoming book, CinderGirl, but also speaking to the number of foster youth who age out of the system with little to no support, many of them becoming homeless, just as Meredith was.

Meredith called the situation a “travesty,” explaining that if every church in the U.S. committed to eradicating the issue of homeless foster youth, they could do it.

Her appearance on The Today Show serves as a call to action for the American people, especially faith-based organizations, to open their eyes to the need of young adults in the foster care situation. Further, Meredith’s story points to the fact that every life has value, and that no life is too far gone to be redeemed and restored.

Meredith’s interview can be viewed here:

https://www.today.com/video/homeless-as-a-teen-woman-calls-for-foster-care-system-reform-145229318 7540

Meredith’s memoir, CinderGirl hit shelves on March 5th.

What Happens After 18?: Aging Out of Foster Care

Leah Tripp

I remember the excitement I felt leading up to March of 2016.

I was turning 18, and I felt like I had the whole world in front of me. I was a senior in high school, I knew where I was going to college, and I felt like I had plenty of options open to me as I moved forward into legal “adulthood.”

18th birthdays should be full of promise and expectation, but for many young adults in America, turning 18 marks a time of great uncertainty.

Each year, over 23,000 children age out of the US foster care system.

Aging out of foster care can be traumatic for a variety of reasons. From a logistical standpoint, many children who age out of foster care become effectively homeless the day they turn 18 if they do not have a support system that is willing to provide them care and housing. According to the National Foster Youth Institute, homelessness impacts 20% of youth who age out of foster care.

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For those who avoid the immediate threat of homelessness, there are a range of other obstacles related to employment, education, and emotional health.

Youth who age out of foster care go to college at a significantly lower rate, as they may not have adults who are willing to guide them through application processes, academic requirements, and required testing.

Their lack of participation in post-secondary education is not due to lack of ability, but to lack of awareness.

In terms of employment, 50% of foster children who age out of the system will have gainful employment by the age of 24. Statistically, the other half of these youth will struggle to maintain stable jobs. The lack of consistent employment can contribute to cyclic patterns that keep foster youth from being able to own their own homes, pursue educational opportunities, or achieve career advancements.

Ultimately, foster youth are in great need of those willing to guide them, care for them, and invest in their lives and growth.

This care can come in the form of full-time foster parenting, mentoring, respite care, or volunteering.

Many Young Adult Foster Homes are beginning to address the challenges associated with aging out by providing care and guidance to foster youth ages 18-21.

These homes allow those who have technically “aged out” to have time to develop necessary skills and a support system in a familial setting.

If you are interested in learning more about helping foster youth, or about Young Adult Foster Homes, visit agapeofnc.org

Opening the Door: Young Adult Foster Homes

Leah Tripp

A home in Raleigh, North Carolina is seeking to meet a need that many do not realize exists within foster care: young adult foster homes. 

Mary Arnold, Director of Social Services for AGAPE of North Carolina, explained that while many people associate foster care with a 0-17 age bracket, they often “do not realize that there are 18 to 21 year olds in care that need a home as well.” 

The home in Raleigh seeks to meet this need by providing a foster home for 18-21 year old girls, hoping to give them stability and a jumping off point from which to pursue personal, educational, and career goals. 

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Currently, the home consists of a foster mother and two young women. Arnold makes monthly visits to the home, checking in with the girls and their foster mother. These visits consist of talking to the girls about various aspects of their lives, including schooling, employment, social adjustment, and the living situation within the house. 

While the house is technically a foster home, Arnold acknowledges that the day-to-day functioning of the home works differently since the residents are adults. Unlike younger foster children, the girls have the option choose this foster home. They have chosen to commit to living in the home, understanding that they have the freedom to “pack their bags and go.”

One of the most interesting aspects of young adult foster homes lies in the mutual investment of both parties; Arnold explains that girls can, and have, interviewed the foster mother and the managing foster care agency in order to determine whether or not the home is the right fit. The foster mother also has the opportunity to interview the girls as well, creating a mutual relationship of interest and understanding. 

Arnold also explains that the need for any and all foster parents is also growing, explaining that she has received quite a few calls regarding children as of late that she has not been able to accept or place due to the lack of available foster homes. 

Finally, when asked what she wants people to understand about young adults in foster care, Arnold states:

“They have so much to give. They are full of love, but they have been hurt, so there’s not a lot of trust there at first. But once you open the door to them, they have so much to give that it is endless. We need to support them so they can be the people that God created them to be.” 

Young Adult Foster Homes

By Mary Arnold

We are committed to providing these young women with the support they need to assist them in becoming the independent, strong women that God created them to be (Psalm 139:13).

Have you ever wondered what happens to teens when they turn 18 and “age out” of the foster care system?
The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 provided a provision that allows states to receive federal money for programs associated with supporting young adults who choose to remain in foster care up to the age of 21. North Carolina is one of 25 states to extend foster care beyond 18 years of age.

AGAPE of NC opened Young Adult Foster Homes in October of this year for young ladies aged 18-21. We are committed to providing these young women with the support they need to assist them in becoming the independent, strong women that God created them to be (Psalm 139:13).

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The young ladies will all be working on different goals while residing at Young Adult Foster Homes. Some will be finishing up high school. Others will be going to college or working to save money to buy a car or rent their own place to live.

Ms. Fay Evans, who has a passion for helping young women and assisting them with the transition to the next phase of their lives, is our resident Foster Parent for our Young Adult Foster Homes located in Raleigh. Ms. Evans has worked with teen girls for over 20 years. She prays for each girl daily -- those who are in her care and those who will be coming into her care. She prays for God’s direction and wisdom in leading the young ladies toward independence.

AGAPE needs additional women volunteers for Young Adult Foster Homes. Ms. Evans will need respite care providers for the home, and we would also like to have mentors from congregations in the area for each young girl. If you have an interest in volunteering at Young Adult Foster Homes please contact Mary Arnold by email at: marnold@agapeofnc.org or by phone at: 919.673.7816.

Fostering Bright Futures

A program at Wake Technical Community College

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The Fostering Bright Futures (FBF) program is a student success program that addresses the overwhelming need for a comprehensive support structure to assist our community's foster youth in making the transition from Wake County's foster care program to independent young adulthood.

Hear Kelsea tell her story and learn more at https://www.waketech.edu/student-life/fostering-bright-futures.

Source: https://www.waketech.edu/student-life/fost...

Anthony Pico's Story Featured on This American Life

By Jordan Upton

This American Life is a weekly radio show based out of Chicago. The program has been on the air since 1995 and has produced over 600 episodes, which are now aired on over 500 public radio stations across the United States with over 2 million listeners. Each episode typically consists of several stories from journalists, writers, comedians, and various others who share common themes, traits, or ideas. In an episode from August of 2007, the theme was “The Spokesman”. In it, four different stories are told about people being forced into a spokesman-like role, dramatically altering their lives plunging them out of common anonymity.

The second story shared on this episode focuses on Anthony Pico of California. Anthony was born into the foster care system after his mother, a crack addict fled the hospital after giving birth. Anthony never knew his father and therefore was shuffled from relative to relative, facing abuse and neglect along the way. At age 12 Anthony was adopted by a relative who cared for him, but after their death two years later he was forced back into the system. Then, at age 15 he was placed under the care of another relative who also passed away when Anthony was 17. The tragedies in Anthony’s life forced him to see the foster care system not only in California, which is the nation’s largest foster care system, but as a whole, and he saw it needed reform. So at age 15, Anthony began public speaking on behalf of foster care reform to judges, legislators, groups advocating for foster children, and anyone who would listen. And in 2006, Anthony was appointed by California's Chief Justice to the Blue Ribbon Commission on Children in Foster Care in order to represent the youth voice in California's court.

In this story, which was recorded over ten years ago, the reporter with Anthony is Douglas McGray. McGray follows Anthony for weeks as he travels giving speeches on his life and background in the system. Anthony was 18 at the time and was living in a group home with other 18 year-olds who were about to age out of the system. McGray discusses the hardships of not only children in foster care but, specifically, the children who are about to age out of foster care. McGray discusses a massive study conducted by the University of Chicago that looked at this exact group. At the end of the year-long study, it was concluded that nearly 70% of these kids had dropped out of high school, half had lost their health insurance, half of the girls had gotten pregnant, 15% had been homeless, and 1 in 5 had been in jail.

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While Anthony is an advocate for all foster children, he himself is still a foster child. During the story, the listener is able to hear Anthony’s eloquent and powerful speeches to groups at lavish dinners, while also learning that Anthony has fallen behind in school. He is 18 and has gone to 6 different high schools over 4 years. He has fallen a full year behind and is not close to graduating. In an attempt to catch back up in school he enrolled in a six-week summer program but his public speaking caused him to miss orientation and his first full week of classes. The stark dichotomy of positive, confident speaker at elegant gatherings to the scared, frustrated 18-year-old kid trying to go to school is heartbreaking.

In the years since the story has aired Anthony has not only received his GED but also a Bachelor’s Degree in Philosophy from Loyola Marymount University and continues to be an advocate for reform in foster care and a mentor for those in the system.

Anthony’s story can be heard online for free at https://www.thisamericanlife.org/338/the-spokesman  For more information on Anthony Pico please visit http://anthonypico.com/bio/

Higher Education for Foster Care Youth

By Jordan Upton

Research has shown that youth in foster care are less likely to continue on to college compared to other high school graduates. Of those who do enroll in college, many do not make it through to obtain a degree.

In efforts to help boost student success, programs such as NC Reach have been established. NC Reach is a state-funded scholarship offered to qualified applicants for up to 4 years of undergraduate study at any of the 74 NC public colleges and universities. Qualified applicants are North Carolina residents, and were either adopted from the NC Division of Social Services (DSS) foster care after the age of 12 or aged out of NC DSS foster care at age 18.

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In addition to scholarship funds that cover tuition and fees, NC Reach provides emotional supports that students may not otherwise have in their personal lives. Students are matched with a coordinator who helps them academically and personally navigate higher education. They can also request a personal coach, or mentor, who will be there to support and encourage them throughout their collegiate experience. Students will receive three care packages per year and are eligible to participate in the Foster Care to Success InternAmerica Program.

Programs such as NC Reach are making higher education more attainable for all students.

http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2017/12/07/for-foster-care-kids-college-degrees-are-elusive http://www.ncreach.org