Foster Teens Aging Out Is A Problem But One Woman Is Stepping Up
When most people think of foster care, the most immediate thing that comes to mind are families who adopt children, usually at a young age, and give them a new home. However, there’s another side of foster care that doesn’t get discussed much. There are thousands of teens across America that “age out” of the foster care system without family to take them. These teenagers come from all kinds of situations from the decent to the very bad and without proper guidance it can be tough for them to succeed once they leave the system.
According to the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System, there were 415, 129 children who were currently foster care on a national basis in September 2014. That same year saw 264,746 children enter into foster care. To put it in perspective, that meant that a child entered into foster care roughly every two minutes. Now, some of these children do get to go home to a family through reunification but there are some who do not as mentioned before. The “ageing out” or emancipation (the government’s term) saw about 9 percent (22,392) of the children did not get adopted or reunified with their family in 2014.
That’s where Erin NeSmith and the Grow Into You foundation come into play. It’s a new foundation and what it does is help coach these teens that are aging out of the system and give them a chance at success when they do leave.
Grow Into You Foundation is a foundation aimed at counseling teens aging out of foster care and other underprivileged youth around Hillsborough County. The foundation focuses on coaching and mentoring services for all of those involved in the foster care system.
NeSmith is a University of South Florida graduate with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interpersonal Communication. She knew upon graduation that she wanted to help people through communication and connection. She tried social work by managing cases of children that were conditionally released from court appointed programs. She didn’t feel like that was her purpose though and decided to teach instead.
After years of teaching children that were challenged academically and behaviorally, NeSmith found her calling. She knew her heart was drawn to a certain faction of these children.
“In foster care, what draws me to it is that we all have stuff, we all grow up even if we grow up in loving, nurturing homes, we still have stuff that when we become adults we have to get over and we have to figure out,” NeSmith said. “It’s hard to imagine that if you come from a home where you’ve been abused or neglected how much harder it must be to get through that stuff, especially when you have to walk out of perhaps a group home with no support, with no family to turn to, no one to call when you need to make a decision.”
NeSmith says one of the biggest challenges she sees teens face when transitioning out of foster care is where they end up. The lack of support system guiding them when they age out plays a heavy part in the cyclical nature of this.
“The (foster care) system has a lot of things in place for them as they are being cared for,” NeSmith said. “But when they age out, there are very high populations of incarceration, homelessness, being trafficked or ending up back in the system as a parent.”
NeSmith’s goal is to have teens out of foster care become stable contributors to society. With the current funding she has available, she is able to coach 20 teens a month and in the next six months she hopes to see that number rise.
“To see the path some of them have already went down or are heading for without the support is what I’m really trying to change,” she said.
Along with the challenges teens in the system already face, they stare down another challenge as well: trying to find foster parents to take them in. This is the more common aspect people relate to when it comes to foster care.
“Most parents that are taking in foster kids are typically taking in younger kids,” NeSmith said. “There are not a lot of people that will take in the teens, they feel fearful if they have younger children that their children would be in danger or that (teens) would wreck their home and those things are really misconceptions and misunderstandings.”
Grow Into You Foundation not only focuses on the coaching of teens in foster care, but also coaching parents that take in teens.
NeSmith works to help bring awareness to parents. Part of that awareness is the ability of how they can build relationships with these teens. She also uses her foundation to help promote the importance of having these older foster children find a home. The biggest challenge is getting parents to “stay in the game” and work through the difficulties they may be facing with a teen they took in.
Like many organizations, this one is a non-profit, which relies heavily on donations and sponsorships. Individual teens and group homes can be sponsored and it helps fund the hours NeSmith is physically coaching a teen face to face.
“Anyone who donates, primarily small business, they get their write off,” NeSmith said. “They’re able to have their name out there as a contributing member to giving back to the community and they are able to get personalized updates as to what is going on with the teens they are sponsoring.”
The best way to go through the sponsorship process is to go to the Grow Into You Foundation website and follow the instructions there. Anyone can get involved with the foundation by joining NeSmith.
Grow Into You hosts numerous fundraisers to raise funds for their missions and goals. One upcoming fundraiser is a “coffee and conversation” night in the fall and a golf tournament in the spring. Resources are another huge contributor in the success of Grow Into You Foundation. Being able to have businesses willing to work with teens when they transition out of foster care is important in their path to success.
Whether it’s internships, college applications all of this is to help keep these teens focused. Another way the foundation helps is by setting up a relationship with local businesses and the teens. This helps give them opportunities to get a job and provide for themselves or have mentorship.
“ It’s very helpful for when they age out. We are able to connect them with local businesses where they can get a job or maybe being able to connect them with entrepreneurs in the community that want to mentor them,” NeSmith said.
With the help of the public, Grow Into You Foundation will be able to help many teens transition out of foster care. It’s an uphill battle but it’s also an important fight to help give these teens a better way of life.
“I’ve always been a fan of the underdog,” she said. “The fact that they are both more vulnerable and that they are in a position where possibly they don’t have the support that many of us have when we’re starting off, I want to be able to give that support to them.”