Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Having Been There

The most significant success determinant in the human service sector—when personal transformation is the core element—is the involvement of those who have been there; who already know the trials and tribulations of dealing with the cultural artifacts and social handicaps of exposure to one of the government managed systems that too often are marked by failure.

The foster care system is surely one of these and this article from one person who has not only survived it but transcended it to become an advocate for change is another example of how effective those who have “been there” can be in helping others to “transcend there”.

An excerpt.

“Few people here in Sacramento have as close a connection to the policies they propose as I do. When I work on legislation with foster youths and advocates, it's personal.

“Between the ages of 7 and 17, I lived in 10 different foster-care homes. I was the youngest of five children, and my journey through the system began when my mother became addicted to drugs. My father was in Ohio and unable to care for us, so we relied on relatives and foster families throughout California.

“The chaos of home life soon translated into trouble at school. I was kicked out of junior high three times for acting out – getting into a fight, giving counselors a hard time and skipping classes. In high school, I joked that I showed up for two periods: breakfast and lunch.

“Toward the end of high school, I moved to a group home. There I met housemates who had experienced much worse things in the homes they were shuffled in and out of – and in the foster-care system in general.

“Many of their personal struggles matched or foreshadowed disturbing statistics that are all too common for foster youths: Fewer than half graduate from high school. Among those who do, less than 2 percent earn a college degree. And within two years of turning 18, half of all foster youth will find themselves homeless, in prison or on welfare.

“That's why I'm now dedicated to working with and on behalf of the 77,000 foster children in California to fix the system. I say "with" because the young people themselves must have a seat at the table if we, as a state, are to truly understand – and improve – their situations…

“I've been there, and I'm working with bright, courageous foster youths every day to remind elected officials that progress comes from changing, not shortchanging, the system.”