Foster care graduates: independent, but not alone

By July 7, 2014

USA (Buckner/MNN) — The outlook for many foster youth after they turn 18 is rather grim.

According to a report by CNN earlier this year, 20% of foster care youth will be homeless once they age out of the system.

By age 24, only half will have any sort of job. Less than 3% will earn a college degree. The report says 71% of former foster care women will be pregnant by the age of 21, and 25% of foster care youth will suffer from Post-traumatic stress disorder.

For the resources the United States has, this is incredibly disturbing.

Buckner International is an organization seeking to build into the lives of vulnerable children and other groups of people through Christ-centered values.

The following is an uplifting report from Buckner’s Lauren Hollon Sturdy about their work to reverse the outcome for many former foster care youth:

Christian Camacho is a former foster care youth and Aftercare participant (photo courtesy of Buckner International)

Christian Camacho is a former foster care youth and Aftercare participant. (photo courtesy of Buckner International)

Christian Camacho likes life to be orderly. A clean-cut finance major at Texas Tech University, he dresses neatly, typically sporting a polo shirt, khaki shorts, and boat shoes. He’s articulate and talks about his goals with a sense of certainty. He nearly always has a plan. A strategy.

“He’s different from a lot of other kids,” says Summer Swope-Bechtel, Christian’s aftercare caseworker at Buckner Children and Family Services in Lubbock, Texas. “He just has everything planned so well that he usually doesn’t need emergency assistance. When he does need something, it’s very well planned out and thought out far in advance.”

Soccer is his highest passion. A forward on the Texas Tech men’s club soccer team, he has two-hour practices twice a week and plays with friends at the recreation center for up to four hours at a time.

He’s also a member of the chess club and plays about two hours a week at club events. He’s played since the fourth grade. He’s often inspired by the brilliant people who belong to the club.

“When I see those people play, it’s just a completely different level,” he says. “It helps me work harder. In my head, I’m thinking, ‘You can do it.’”

As a business student, Christian spends a lot of his time at the Rawls building on the Texas Tech campus. (photo courtesy of Buckner International)

As a business student, Christian spends a lot of his time at the Rawls building on the Texas Tech campus. (photo courtesy of Buckner International)

He isn’t just juggling extracurricular activities. He has at least four hours of homework a night, which is “the minimum to keep an A average,” he says. He discovered late in the first semester how important and helpful it is to attend his professors’ office hours. His hard work is paying off: he’s a member of several honor societies, and his high grade point average earned him an invitation to apply for admission to the honors college.

As he finishes up his freshman year, he’s doing all the right things to succeed. He defines himself and his future; the chaos of his teen years doesn’t.

Christian and his younger sister were removed from their mother’s care in Dallas when Christian was 15 years old. He lost count, but thinks he moved foster homes about 12 times in those chaotic years before he graduated from high school and was emancipated from the foster care system.

Christian and his sister were separated after being placed in care, but he still tries to be a role model to her, encourage her, and visit her a few times a year when he comes to Dallas.

Although he’s an independent young man, Christian occasionally seeks help from Buckner Aftercare, a program that acts as a support system for young people who have aged out of foster care. Aftercare participants meet with their caseworker about every three months to check in, talk about what’s going on in their lives, and make sure they’re on the right track. Aftercare programs often provide emergency assistance–helping with things like unexpected car repairs, providing new clothes, or even giving the kids gifts at Christmas time.

Christian says having Aftercare to fall back on has given him tremendous peace of mind, since, unlike many college students, he can’t call up a family member when he has a medical bill to pay or gets low on grocery money.

“Without Aftercare, my anxiety would be through the roof right now,” he says. “It’s a weight that’s lifted off your shoulders. It’s so much easier to focus on everything else rather than having to worry about money issues or even something as small as trying to buy new shoes and stuff like that. I honestly don’t think my GPA would be as high as it is without the support of Buckner Aftercare.

“My caseworker provided me with everything I needed. If I needed rent money or anything for my apartment, they provided it. And it’s nice just to have somebody come over and talk to me. It was nice [when I first got to Tech] to see a face I could recognize in a new place, and to have someone to share my successes with.”

After he finishes his undergraduate studies in business, Christian plans to get his master’s degree. He hopes to either build his own business from the ground up or work at a hedge fund someday, and says he’s been fascinated by money–how it works and how to make it work for you–since he was a young kid. He hopes someday he’ll be able to use it to give back to the people and institutions that have helped him along the way.

“Support is crucial to success in life, I feel,” he says. “I can’t even tell you how much they’ve helped me. It’s extraordinary.”

Aftercare is funded through a contract with Child Protective Services, but the program relies on donors for “extras,” such as gift cards, Christmas gifts, dorm room or apartment supplies, and more. For information on ways you can make a difference for a former foster child, please contact Buckner Foundation at 1-800-442-4800, ext. 8000.

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