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Beyond The Foster Care System

Beyond The Foster Care System: The Future for Teens

Betsy Krebs
Paul Pitcoff
Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    Beyond The Foster Care System
    Book Description:

    Each year tens of thousands of teenagers are released from the foster care system in the United States without high school degrees or strong family relationships. Two to four years after discharge, half of these young people still do not have either a high school diploma or equivalency degree, and fewer than ten percent enter college. Nearly a third end up on public assistance within fifteen months, and eventually more than a third will be arrested or convicted of a crime.

    In this richly detailed and often surprising exploration of the foster care system, Betsy Krebs and Paul Pitcoff argue that the existing structure sets kids up to fail by inadequately preparing them for adult life. Foster care programs traditionally emphasize goals of reuniting children with family or placing children into adoptive homes. But neither of these outcomes is likely for adolescents. Krebs and Pitcoff contend that the primary goal of foster care for teenagers should be rigorous preparation for a fully productive adult life and that the standard life skills curriculum is woefully inadequate for this purpose.

    The authors, who together cofounded the Youth Advocacy Center in New York City, draw on their fifteen years of experience working with teens and the foster care system to introduce new ways to teach teens to be responsible for themselves and to identify and develop their potential. They also explore what sorts of resources-legal, financial, and human-will need to come from inside and outside the system to more fully humanize the practice of foster care. Ultimately, Krebs and Pitcoff argue that change must involve the participation of caring communities of volunteers who want to see disadvantaged youth succeed as well as developing methods to empower teens to take control of their lives.

    Bringing together a series of inspiring, real-life accounts, Beyond the Foster Care System introduces readers to a number of dynamic young people who have participated in the Youth Advocacy Center's programs and who have gone on to apply these lessons to other areas of life. Their stories demonstrate that more successful alternatives to the standard way of providing foster care are not only imaginable, but possible. With the practical improvements Krebs and Pitcoff outline, teens can learn the skills of effective self-advocacy, become better prepared for the transition to full independence, and avoid becoming the statistics that foster care has so often produced in the past.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4015-3
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xxiv)

    Selina rushed from her last college class of the day to arrive on time. Hurrying down the block, she noticed Gloria, a young woman standing on the sidewalk outside the imposing law school building. Gloria looked uncertainly at the main entrance doorway, unsure if she belonged there.

    “You here for the graduation?” Selina asked.

    Gloria didn’t look surprised, but her answer seemed a bit cautious. “Think so.”

    “Come on, I’ll go in with you,” Selina said with a smile. She knew how imposing the building looked to this girl, how it represented another world, although it was not that far...

  5. 1 First Impressions of the Foster Care System
    (pp. 1-26)

    To get into foster care, you have to pass through family court. To get into family court, you have to wait on a long line to go through metal detectors. The court officers proudly show off garbage cans filled with weapons, guns, knives, brass knuckles, and weapons discovered on clients attempting to enter the courtroom. Some evade the metal detectors, like the family member who brought a rock to throw at a judge.

    We too first entered the foster care system through family court, when we worked there as lawyers for children in foster care. Betsy was an attorney, recently...

  6. 2 Education for Foster Care Teens
    (pp. 27-50)

    When we were lawyers in family court we were supposed to help our teen clients with their placement issues—that is, finding a place for them to live. But often we met teenagers who, when asked how it was going, complained about their education or lack thereof. This surprised us at first. Our prejudice was that teenagers didn’t care that much about high school and that, because these teens were in foster care, they should be exclusively focused on the things we were supposed to be concerned with—whether they would be reunited with their family soon, whether they should...

  7. 3 Teaching Teens Rights
    (pp. 51-78)

    Most teens in foster care are intently focused on their rights. This makes sense because they live in a government system that has countless mandates and regulations. In an effort to protect children, control behavior, and assure compliance by staff and clients, the government’s child welfare bureaucracies proscribe by law and scrutinize for conformity most activities. The government has rules for every decision about raising these teens to prevent them from being treated too arbitrarily by foster parents or group home staff. Everything—from how often you can see your siblings or call your parents to how much allowance you...

  8. 4 Policy Advocacy with Teens
    (pp. 79-107)

    Teens seemed to encounter so many immediate problems that were endemic to the system. Even with our growing interest in preparing teens for their future, we felt compelled to make life more manageable for teens while in care. But the system wasn’t going to change because we were teaching foster teens about their rights and the rudiments of advocacy. We often felt unsatisfied working at solving individual and small group problems. We would resolve a problem, but the system never changed, and the overall future prospects for the teens remained dismal. This made us want to find other ways to...

  9. 5 Preparing for Independent Living
    (pp. 108-129)

    Through working with teens like Carlos, Jenny, Xaranda, and others, we began to see that the system’s greatest failure was not that it sometimes mistreated teens, but that it failed to prepare teens for either college or employment. The system consistently failed to provide teens with meaningful skills to succeed as adults. Throughout our work representing teens in the legal system, educating child welfare professionals, teaching teens about their rights, or organizing youth to advocate for policy changes, we kept coming back to this central problem—too many teens failed after foster care. During this period at Youth Advocacy Center,...

  10. 6 Creating the Getting Beyond the System® Self-Advocacy Seminars
    (pp. 130-159)

    We had traveled many paths in the foster care system, engaged in many problems faced by teens, and considered a range of solutions. During this time we had observed many worthwhile program efforts fail. We believed that the combination of our work, in both policy and programming areas, positioned us to develop an effective curriculum that would actually work for the teen, be suitable for meaningful replication, and eventually promote a positive change within the foster care system. We focused in on one overarching problem: the system failed to prepare teens to reach their potential as individuals and citizens.


  11. 7 Informational Interviews: A Bridge from Foster Care to the Community
    (pp. 160-182)
    Derek and Sharon

    Understanding self-advocacy requires action. Teaching only rules and theory would inadequately prepare teens to learn how to apply self-advocacy in obtaining their individual goals. We were committed to integrating into the curriculum a way for teens to practice their skills in an authentic setting, not just through role plays in the classroom. Early on, we arranged for the teens to advocate for something they wanted in their foster care agency. Now we had raised their (and our own) vision to a farther horizon, the future, and we wanted to give them the opportunity to apply their self-advocacy skills toward getting...

  12. 8 System Resistance to Empowering Teens
    (pp. 183-216)

    We had been running the Getting Beyond the System®Self-Advocacy Seminar classes for teens at our office for two years. We enrolled a few students from a number of different agencies in New York City to form a class. Usually the students were encouraged to attend our seminar by independent living specialists who were committed to seeing teens prepare for their transition out of foster care. These classes helped us learn how to run the seminar and demonstrated the effectiveness of the curriculum and informational interview program.

    We had seen in our program that empowering teens through self-advocacy was an...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 217-228)

    Consensus is growing that the foster care system needs to be rethought for teens.

    Our journey with youth in foster care led us to conclude that foster care for teens should have different goals, strategies, and structures than foster care for younger children. Adolescents in foster care have needs and priorities different from small children. In addition to safety and efforts at family reunification, teens in care must be prepared for adulthood. This vital objective requires a different kind of system than child welfare currently offers.

    Many professionals recognize the need to rethink the objectives of foster care for teens...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 229-230)
  15. Index
    (pp. 231-238)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 239-239)