May is National Foster Care Month, a time to recognize that we each can play a part in enhancing the lives of children and youth in foster care.
May's special issue highlights a higher education program for transitioning youth, a tool for evaluating youth connectedness, and other information about foster care.
The Obama administration remains committed to improving the lives of children in foster care and the futures of youth who may leave foster care without a permanent family.
Twenty-three-year-old Isha-Charlie found her permanent home through foster care. After years of an unstable support system, Charlie joined a safe and loving home at age 15. Although adoption was not an option, Charlie refers to her foster mom Kelli and her foster aunt Searainya as her "adoptive parents," and they to her as their daughter. "Even today, I know I have permanent people in my life who care for my well-being and look at me not as their foster child but as a part of their family. They felt that way from the first time they met me. We have an informal adoption."
Kelli and Sea's motivation to parent older youth came from their awareness of the great needs of teens in foster care. Having lived in a foster home at age 17 and finding it an enriching experience, Kelli had long wanted to give back by becoming a foster parent herself. A caseworker friend who knew of Charlie thought she would fit well into Kelli and Sea's home. The two women agree, "She was meant to come into our lives!" The women have also welcomed two slightly younger foster daughters into their home.
Charlie lived with Kelli and Aunt Sea for over 3 years, until she graduated from high school. She recalls the relief she felt upon realizing she would not have to pack her bags when conflict arose. "We were a family, and families work things out and move on as a unit. One of my greatest memories is learning the real meaning behind the word family," says Charlie.
The threesome faced several adjustments in the beginning. Helping Charlie integrate into a mostly Caucasian community provided Kelli and Sea an opportunity to address the misconceptions of others as well as to examine their own biases. And like many families of young adult children, the women struggled to redefine their roles and relationships as Charlie graduated from high school and began her own life as a college student and independent adult. "It took a couple of years to relax into our new family roles in which we related adult to adult."
Initially Charlie feared that her biological family would feel betrayed and disapprove of the strong bond she was building with her new family. Fortunately her biological relatives were very understanding. "Now I have two family gatherings to attend, whereas statistics show a lot of former foster youth have nowhere to go during the holidays. I am very blessed."
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