By Libby Smith
FORT COLLINS, Colo (CBS4) – CBS4 is examining the issues around "Aging Out", the point when a teenager leaves the foster care system in Colorado.
It's a difficult transition. Many young people become homeless, or get involved in drugs or prostitution, which is why solving this problem is so important for all of Colorado.
Chelsea Hill understands the daunting challenges for both teens and foster parents. In the last 9 years, she's cared for about 20 children in foster care, as well as raising her 4 biological children. She specifically wanted to help teens in foster care, to help them make the transition to living on their own.
"I guess, the outcomes I have seen haven't been great," Hill told CBS4. "A lot of mine, who have left my home, end up without jobs, end up homeless, end up not able to receive their education, not able to go to school."
She said that even when she gets a child at age 13, 14, or 15-years-old, they're already behind. In addition to dealing with the turmoil of trauma, these teens have not had a consistent education or a home where someone is teaching them the value of work.
CBS4 SPECIAL REPORTS: Aging Out
"Then you try to teach them the skills they need to live on their own and the motivation. I think, for me, it's easier to teach the skills it's harder for me to instill that motivation to want to do something with their lives," Hill explained.
She called it her life goal to figure out how to inspire her foster care youth.
"It's really hard. And sometimes I guess I feel like a failure because I feel like I didn't do enough. And I know I'm just one piece of that puzzle, but I don't know how to fix them," Hill said.
Another piece of the puzzle, Hill feels like there are not enough resources available.
"I definitely think there's more that needs to be done. I'm not sure I know what it is…I just feel like these kids are not ready at 18," she said.
"They're legally an adult, and rightly so, they should have some say in who they are," said Robert Werthwein, director of the Office of Children, Youth & Families at the Colorado Department of Human Services.
Werthwein pointed out that many 18-year-olds choose to leave the child welfare system. He said under certain circumstances foster care youth can receive state services until the age of 21. He also told CBS4 that the state is currently looking at a program that would provide support for 18, 19, and 20-year olds.
"We're in the process of changing to allow foster kids who are 18 to 20 to live on their own, and be able to pay for them to live," Werthwein explained.
"What do you think needs to happen to make these young people successful?" Moreno asked Werthwein.
"The best champions and cheerleaders are parents. And that's why the real solution is to get all 288 kids waiting for adoption, families," he responded.
Hill is trying adoption for the first time. She's legally adopting one of her 22-year-old former foster youths.
"I hope adoption will help her realize that even though she's struggling and making some bad choices sometimes, that we're going be here for her. We're not going to give up on her," Hill explained.
It's Hill's latest solution to a complex problem.
CBS4 is doing this series on "Aging Out" as a call to action, to state agencies, non-profit organizations, and the Colorado community as a whole, to improve how we address the needs of these forgotten children.
The following are helpful resources for people who are aging out of foster care and for the people who care for them.
Colorado Child Abuse and Neglect Public Awareness Campaign
Child Abuse & Neglect Hotline
Learn more about foster care and adoption in Colorado.
United Way Bridging the Gap
helping teens live on their own after foster care
Dream Makers Project
making dreams come true for former foster care youth
life skills program provided through human services dept. of each county
CBS4 Wednesday's Child Section
The Adoption Exchange
promoting adoption for foster care youth
Adoption Exchange's Birthday Wishes Program
Office of the Lt. Governor
SOAR! Youth & Adult Choir
soaryouthandadultchoir.org 720-218-1433 (Youth)
Libby Smith is a Special Projects Producer at CBS4. If you have a story you'd like to tell CBS4 about, call 303-863-TIPS (8477) or visit the News Tips section.
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