More current and former children in Connecticut’s foster system should be hired to work in departments relevant to young adult stability, health, and security, according to child advocates.
After a decade of monitoring state agencies that oversee child development, the child advocacy group Connecticut Voices for Children wants the state to prioritize caring for these young people, including with more college tuition assistance as they transition out of the foster system.
Lauren Ruth, its research and policy director, said it’s important to unify state agencies on improving the lives of foster children.
“Increasing the stability and security of Connecticut’s young people in [the state Department of Children and Families] care is ensuring the stability and security of Connecticut’s tomorrow, today,” Ruth said during the Connecticut Voices for Children’s 10th Youth at the Capitol Day. “Connecticut state agencies must all work together to ensure youth transitioning out of state care can lead rich, stable, independent and sound lives, even when they no longer qualify for services directly through DCF.”
The event focused on discussing policy and practice change related to aging out of the child welfare system during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Data shows that fewer children in Connecticut’s foster system, but fewer children transitioning out of the system are pursuing higher education and more are struggling to find housing and employment.
“We believe that the youth are our future, and we want to concentrate our efforts on what you need to be successful,” said Mark Polzella, the state’s deputy labor commissioner. “And that means not just handing you a paycheck or giving you an employment opportunity, but to help you understand where your career path may take you.”
The organization highlighted a state moratorium that was put into place in April 2020 allowed young adults over 18 to continue receiving benefits despite their age due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was the moratorium that actually allowed me access to the resources and funding to return to school and start rebuilding the fractured parts of my life,” said Michael Kloszewski, a former foster care child.
But Janelle Chase, who also transitioned out of the foster system, warned that without action to continue the support for foster children, there may be poor consequences.
“If we ignore the needs of young adults transitioning out of [the foster system] in times of crisis, the long term consequences can be a mixture of blame, due to lack of guidance which leads to homelessness, unemployment, substance abuse and youth turning to unsafe alternatives to make a living,” Chase said.
State Representative Josh Elliot, who chairs the state’s higher education and employment advancement committee, proposed a bill to extend in-state college tuition waivers to young people who have aged out of foster care up to age 30.
“When this topic came to me, it was a no-brainer,” Elliot said. “Obviously, we should be providing these resources to kids that need the support because this is a direct investment in ourselves, in our future, and provides for the success of Connecticut.”
Elliot joined state program director Latosha Johnson, clinical counselor Dr. Linda Dixon and attorney Steven Hernandez, who is executive director for the Commission on Women, Children and Seniors, to discuss ways the state could listen and engage with youth aging out of foster care.
“We have a lot of folks with a lot of degrees, a lot of resume extensions and things of that nature, and sometimes we just need to sit back and listen to the folks that are experiencing — the folks that are living the experience — and hear from them to learn ourselves to better effectuate change,” Johnson said.
Charting their own path
Chris Scott, the executive director and founder of SUN Scholars, a Connecticut-based group that wants to improve educational equity and college graduation rates for those who have experienced foster care or adoption. He encouraged young people to get involved in advocacy; that “legislating luck out of the equation.”
Scott related the foster care system to attempting to find a four leaf clover.
“When I think of foster care, I think all too often, we still are exiting in a realm that is founded on beating the odds,” Scott said. But he said 80% graduate from high school and less than 10% finish college. “
“We so often look at the statistics, we so often look at ‘let’s beat the odds’. And what’s so terrifying about that is, it automatically has a prerequisite for success to come from chance.”
Scott told current foster children to create connections both on the personal level and at the departmental level.
“It’s about interdependence. It’s about that support, and that ability to be there for one another and build that network,” Scott said. “And to me, that’s what legislating luck out of the equation looks like.”