Covenant Community Services, Inc. (Covenant), and their social enterprise Covenant Coffee, recently sent three former foster youth to speak as part of a panel at
the Foster Care and Adoption Summit. The Summit was hosted by Arrow Child Services at Grace Baptist Church in Santa Clarita, California. The three youth, Jonathan R., Balinda A. and Keith K., each worked the event and spoke to the attendees about life in the system, the struggles of exiting without support and their current and future plans.
The purpose of the conference was to help individuals and churches understand the needs of former foster youth as they exit care. As the youth shared their stories tears began to appear in the eyes of shocked attendees as the horror of their life was shared. To many, former foster youth are an unknown people group. Thus, this conference shed great insight into the troubled after-care system that awaits foster youth.
In Kern County, California, former foster youth are given a greater chance for success due to the efforts of the Kern County Department of Human Services and their contractor Covenant Community Services (Covenant). Covenant operates a State funded Transitional Housing Plus program for former foster youth ages 18 to 24 years old. The program, CHOICES THP Plus, is a unique two-year service that aides youth in designing goals and dreams and achieving them.
The CHOICES Program has had great success over their four-year effort with many youth purchasing homes upon exit and finding stability and a solid life in the community. While most youth enter with little or no direction and goals they leave with both. Statewide, 50 counties participate in the THP Plus program. In fiscal year 2012, 2,151 former foster youth were served in the State of California. In Kern County, Covenant serves 50 former foster youth through CHOICES.
At the conference, the youth were able to drop their guard and share openly about their stint in foster care both good and bad. The response from the audience was nothing less than shock and sorrow as the reality of foster care and “system life” hit them in the heart and mind. As Balinda shared about doing drugs with group home staff or David shared about eating at a separate table, the crowd was silent but their minds were racing. The youth did a great job of sharing the hope that they have now found and thus presented the options and opportunities to make an impact clearly. The message was clear … there is a problem but you can help and you can make a difference.
Each youth shared from their heart and convinced the crowd that transformation of the system and individuals lives is possible but only as we strive to serve former foster youth with love and hope. This is the exact mission of Covenant Community Services in Bakersfield, California. It is exciting to think of where the future will take these inspirational youth and what the future holds for each. I know one thing – it is filled with hope!
For a more in-depth look into the plight of former foster youth read the report by Human Rights Watch – “My So-Called Emancipation” at this link Full Report.
To learn about California’s THP Plus program go to Fostering Connections