“I want to see less bad stories about youth in the system that could’ve been avoided,” says DC youth, Ravon Stewart. “The numbers of youth dying incarcerated and homeless have to be decreased. That could be something real positive.”
Stewart, a member of The Young Women’s Project (YWP) is working toward making that happen. As part of the first youth task force to organize a DC city hearing, Stewart and YWP peers will be part of the youth team who will be organzing and facilitating Yes Youth Can: Confronting the Challenges of Aging Out as DC Council Member Tommy Wells hands over the power of the Committee on Human Services for the first time to youth.
The hearing will be held on Friday, January 22, 2010, at 11:00 am in Room 412 of the John A. Wilson Building, 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW. The hearing will examine the experiences and challenges of older youth in the DC foster care system, the effectiveness of programs and services for this group, and what can be done to improve their life prospects when they leave the system at 21.
“I want answers on permanence and education and I want some things that can be accomplished and put into action to come out of this hearing,” said youth staff member Sarah Ocran, one of nine foster youth who are part of YWP’s Foster Care Campaign (FCC) , an adult-youth partnership that aims to improve the lives of youth in care.
Featuring testimony from more than 25 foster youth, community based organizations, service providers, and staff at the DC Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA), the hearing will focus on three main areas: Aging Out, Education & Employment, and Congregate Care.
“I expect to hear powerful testimony,” said Chairman Wells. “I want to know what’s working, what’s not, and where they believe improvements can be made. I know the youth at this hearing will come with ideas and solutions for the city to explore.”
According to data released by CFSA in May 2009, there were 2,264 DC youth in out-of-home care; 1,064 were between the ages of 15-21. Each year, between 150-200 youth turn 21 and age out of the system without a permanent legal relationship. Most do not have the knowledge, skills, and supports they need to be self-sufficient, successful adults. According to CFSA’s own 2008 Quality Improvement Administration Report about DC foster youth transitioning out of care, at the time of discharge from the system:
• Only 14% have all the necessary resources to support themselves
• 40% have their high school diploma
• 10% are enrolled in college
• 66% suffer from mental illness or substance abuse
• 34% are pregnant or parenting
Although DC does not keep data on youth aging out, a 2007 study by the University of Chicago focused on foster youth in the Midwest found that 68% of men and 46% of women are arrested within one year of aging out and that the average earnings of a foster care youth during the first year after aging out is $7,000.
The older youth hearing is the brainchild of Ward 6 Councilman Tommy Wellswho got to know many of the FCC youth staff as they kept showing up in his office to voice their opinions on foster care reform.
“He put us on the spot in a good way by challenging us to take policy into our own hands,” said FCC staff member T’Kara Plater. “Tommy Wells has the same vision that we have. He is saying to us that we are just as important as regular children.”
Added FCC staff member Brittaney Silver, “He was the first decision maker we met with that realized how important it was to involve youth in the policy process. And he is not just saying it — but actually doing it. And is willing to collaborate with youth to make it happen.”
“This is an exciting opportunity for youth to participate on both sides of the dais at a hearing – they are helping prepare the testimony, staff the Committee, and will help run the hearing,” said Chairman Wells.
“This hearing is a critical step in the emerging partnership between foster youth and city leaders in remaking DC’s foster care system,” said YWP Executive Director Nadia Moritz. “Right now we are spending millions on older youth and getting very little in return. We need to shift the way that we think about our investment in foster youth and their potential. They can to go college. They can be successful. They can contribute so much to our community. But right now our programs and services are sending them down the path to prison, homelessness, and a life time reliance on public support.”
For more information, visit www.youngwomensproject.org